Richard and Heather were involved in initiating a debate on planning policy at the Sutton Council meeting on 17 October. Richard wanted to welcome some aspects of proposals for a National Planning Policy Framework while drawing attention to a number of problems involved in the planning system that have affected Sutton South Ward – the permissive nature of permitted development rights, the inconsistent decisions of the Planning Inspectorate and the slowness of the system, which does not help maintain public confidence.

The full text of Richard’s speech is as follows.

“I would like to support the motion’s cautious welcome for the National Planning Policy Framework, as a set of planning policies that respect a localist agenda,

while at the same time expressing our concern that there are some aspects of the direction of policy that we still need to work on to get them right.

I believe that the planning system, as it operates in Sutton, has worked well to protect the interests of the community.

We have in particular, over many years, adopted a strong policy to protect backgardens and control backgarden development. There are two important aspects to this:

–         we have adopted planning policies that carefully control what types of backgarden development might get planning permission, and even this year have strengthened that policy with amendments to planning policy DM30 to ensure that aspects of character, appearance and amenity are fully considered: and

–         we have devoted significant resources to ensuring planning requirements are strongly enforced.

To this end, every site where an infringement of planning law is alleged is visited and the enforcement staff work carefully through the processes required by law to get any breach corrected.

I am impressed by the statistic that in the last year the enforcement team have met their target times for early site visits in 97% of cases.

The processes they follow are, because of planning law, sometimes slow – but every case is doggedly pursued to its conclusion.

This policy, however, comes under pressure from several sources that we cannot as a Council control.

First, from the legal requirements concerning what is permitted development.

I think the reforms of 2008 took out of the planning system buildings that really ought to be within it.

I was surprised recently when, in my Ward, a large building was built in a back garden but found – due to the dimensions and overall size of the plot, and its planned use – to be permitted development, though it has certainly affected the amenity of neighbours, some of whom are here tonight. We must be on guard against any further relaxation of permitted development law.

In taking forward the National Planning Policy Framework, none of us would want to see rights of permitted development widened still further, and a key point in the motion is the statement that extending permitted development rights further will reduce rather than enhance the power of the community to stop inappropriate changes.

I am therefore delighted that the amendment to the motion calls for a full review of permitted development law.

Second, there are the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate – not mentioned in the motion, but I cannot let pass the opportunity to say their decisions are less consistent than I would have expected – and indeed some of their decisions have done real damage in my Ward.

Third, the legal processes do not help. They provide those who breach planning law with myriad opportunities for appeals and delay, all of us have examples from our own Wards. And at the end of the process we sometimes face the seeming lethargy of the Courts in dealing with such breaches. All of this hinders our strong enforcement efforts and leads to a public perception that things take a long time, which affects public confidence in the planning system.

These are all factors we cannot control, but we must take every opportunity to make representations to seek their amelioration – and this motion is a part of that campaign. 

So – a cautious welcome for the National Planning Policy Framework, recognising that this is a policy area central to our efforts to maintain the pleasant environment of our Borough. It is right that we should intervene in this national debate to make clear to all our determination to be able to continue those efforts to cherish and protect the green and pleasant character of Sutton.”

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