Planning Forum meeting 9th February 2022

Author: Cyril Richert

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Planning Forum Zoom meeting

The biannual planning forum, the informal information sharing group organised by the Council for community representatives, was organised on video-call a few days ago (for the fourth time since July 2020). The meeting started with 14 participants, including 5 planning officers and the chair of the planning committee, Cllr Humphries.

Local Plan Update

At the beginning of January, the officers have published their response to the consultation that ended nearly a year ago. The consultation is open from Monday 10 January to Monday 28 February 2022 (8 weeks).

As for the previous consultation, the same comments can apply. The documents to study are the Pre-Publication Draft Local Plan Consultation Statement (January 2022) which is 89 page long, with Appendix 5: Responses to Local Plan Pre-Publication Consultation and Officer Comment which is 533 pages, a total of more than 600 pages.

However, the full response that should be looked at is actually double: the Local Plan Regulation 19 (Version for Public Consultation) Paper No. 21-309 is a 1274-page long document (65Mb to download)  that was presented before the Strategic Planning and Transportation Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 11th November 2021.

The task that any community group and Society should do is first to compare all mentions of the group/society and the response made by officers; then it should also list all comments made by the group and ignored; and eventually it should consider the full document to spot any change on comments made by other participants that should be worth noting.

According to the Council officials, that colossus task should happily be processed by volunteer members of the community groups, within the 8 weeks constraint of the consultation timeframe!

 At the meeting, we got confirmation at this meeting that the team of officers in charge of the work is shared with Richmond and made of 8 individuals, working full time on it, with the help of dozens of additional officers depending on the specific domain of expertise (transport facilities, open spaces, industrial land, housing, …etc). And it took them … 8 months to do it. 

Here is a simple comparison of Wandsworth’s Local Plan consultation: on one side, a few unpaid volunteers getting 8 weeks to analyse and respond to a 1200+ page document; on the other side, an average of more than 15 officers (equivalent full-time) allowed 35 weeks to produce their draft. 

Although there is no specific duration for such consultation, the common practice is to allow a 12-week period (sometime more). For example, the draft new London Plan (525 pages) was published in December 2017 and was followed by a three-month consultation.

To be fair, the officer in charge of the Local Plan exercise, Adam Hutchings, told us that late comments would be of interest. However, depending on how late, it seems unlikely to have any effect on the submission to the Government Inspector, that they intend to make on April 22nd. However, the inspector will receive also all previous comments.

CJAG intends to submit a full analysis based on the responses to our comments. However, it won’t happen before late March at the earliest.

Bats and Biodiversity (item submitted by Sutherland Grove Conservation Area Residents’ Association)

Officers confirmed that bats are protected under specific conditions; and if there is evidence of bat activity, construction work needs to be stopped immediately.

However, once again Nick Calder, Head of Development Management, confirmed that bio-diversity studies are not public, in order to avoid rogue contractors to get rid of wild life at start. Julia Raeburn, from Sutherland Grove Conservation Area Residents’ Association, said that more information need to be shared, including the way surveys are done. The Battersea Society added that the cost of such survey is neglectable and it should become a requirement for planning applications. While the officer responded that the application forms are national documents, it was asked whether the Council could suggest an amendment to the form.

Collective, shared and student housing developments (item submitted by the Battersea Society)

This item echoes the concern raised by the Battersea Society on the increase of applications for co-living blocks.

CJAG has published an article about this specific topic, that may be used as a reference: Is Wandsworth becoming the new Eldorado of co-living? Large funds are backing those schemes which are seen as very profitable instruments, providing an explanation to the number of applications arising.

Adam Hutchings commented that, while the 2016 local plan did not have any section on such developments, the new emerging Local Plan intend to give priority to conventional housing. When submitted a scheme for co-living, applicants will have to demonstrate that the site is not suitable for other type of accommodation.

The Battersea Society said that, base on this comment from the officer, the current schemes should have been refused but they are not, which questions the will to alter the trend. 

Wandsworth Gyratory (item submitted by the Battersea Society)

The revamp of Wandsworth gyratory system in Wandsworth town was used a a benefits that would emerge from the Ram Brewery redevelopment in 2013. Ten years later, saying that the new road system is in limbo is and understatement. In recent communications, Transport for London announced that they have abandoned the project and won’t be providing funding (a huge blow to the Wandsworth PR team, which announced in July 2021 that the plan was “imminent”!)

Wandsworth Council has said to keep £27.6m in reserve (s106 and CIL money), dedicated for the revamp of the one-way system. The scheme is projected to cost between £36m and £50m. Independently, there are several options that planning forum members would like Wandsworth Council to explore, including implementing part of the scheme or the full scheme using the huge pot of cash they currently sit on. However, no commitment to even explore alternative ways was made during the meeting.

BT planning applications (item submitted by the Battersea Society)

Applications are made on TfL land and the borough responded that they do not make money out of the advertising income BT is making with their new hubs. However it is noted that it adds to street cluttering.

Mas erection is another issue, but as the government is promoting 5G networks (which needs more mas 5G coverage is smaller than 4G), there is an obligation to implement those schemes.

However, the emerging Local Plan should make conditions tougher, with Policy RP22.

Policy/future policy for the use/demand for front gardens for EV charging (item submitted by the Putney Society)

Officers reminded that the conversion of front gardens is usually not desirable.

Policy/future policy regarding air source heat pumps (item submitted by the Putney Society)

AC and heat pumps are very similar units, therefore it is difficult to distinguish by residents. Officers said that it was part of the provision for permitted planning permissions.

Conditions for a planning application to come before the committee (question from Clapham Junction Action Group)

A past planning application for a digital advertising board on Lavender Hill generated 9 objections, but was still decided by delegation. Although many assumed that the rule was the need to get 3 objections, the decision to go before the planning application committee is actually rather complex.

First of all, two years ago it was decided to make the criteria 5 objections instead of 3. However, Nick Calder explained that this is actually part of a list of 12 15 criteria called ECS82 (that you can find HERE). The officer added that in case of small schemes, especially when officers are minded to refuse, it wouldn’t go to committee.

However, the first rule to consider is when a ward councillor makes a written  requests that it be determined by the Planning Applications Committee. But even such request can be circumvented in the case where, after consultation with the Assistant Director (Planning and Transport Strategy), the Chairman of the Planning Applications Committee is of the opinion that the case should not be considered by the Committee.

Other topics were discussed but we won’t comment on them here. The next meeting should probably happen in July 2022, with a new chair (and maybe a new majority?) depending on May local election result.

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