Planning: Why I Walked Out
On 6th October (yesterday) I walked out of a Strategic Planning Committe, I want to share why to help everyone understand a bit more about how Councillors make planning decisions.
The Verve Apartments
I didn't walk out of the whole meeting, just the part where the committee was to vote on an application regarding the Verve Apartments in Romford. These apartments sit within my ward and so, naturally, you'd expect me to want to have my say on what's going on.
The apartments themselves are a conversion of office space. They are 7 stories in height, with 2 of those being additions to the original building. The building is laid out in a horseshoe shape around a central courtyard, which acts as parking. The building is centrally located, smack bang next to the Sapphire Leisure Centre and Ice Rink. It's a prime piece of land.
The application in question was P1591.20 (which you can view by clicking HERE). To summarise the application, the developer wanted permission to keep two additional homes that had been built on the site.
Originally, planning permission had been given for 20 flats to be added. However, a rearranging of the layout meant 22 ended up appearing. So, planning permission needed to be sought.
During the election, residents approached us candidates with concerns. They say that they have not been given access to parking spaces that they should have been. The original 20 units, along with the rest of the building, were supposed to have 60 spaces. The developer hadn't yet provided those.
The new application, for the 22 built, was also planning to tweak the provision to the total number of spaces being 27.
Residents had also been made to sign a prohibition, by the developer, that meant they could not object to the new planning proposals. This was something that the planning officers had sight of.
Judging the application
My colleague, Councillor Joshua Chapman, 'called in' the application. This is a process available to councillors, which means that the application is presented to the committee instead of just being judged by Officers. It gives us a chance to speak up and to have our say on the development, sometimes securing extra conditions on the planning permission such as "this site must deliver the originally proposed parking spaces...".
By now you may have formed an opinion as to whether this planning permission should be given. We've got some facts;
- 20 units had been approved, 22 were built
- 60 parking spaces were to be delivered, they are yet to be
- There was to be a reduction in the amount of parking
- Residents had been banned from objecting to the planning permission.
If you have already formed an opinion, then council rules say that you should not be voting on the application.
Strategic Planning is a quasi-judicial committee. This means that the decisions we make have legal implications and they can be challenged in court. When rejecting an application, councillors must state their reasons for doing so and these are logged. The applicant can then go to the government, lay out their case, and the government will look at the reasons for objection. They can then overturn the committee.
That's the process in short, anyway.
So, why did I walk out of the meeting?
One justification for overturning the application is that the councillors already made their mind up, before they had the official presentation. This is known as having a 'closed mind' and a 'pre-determination'. Councillors are supposed to judge the application on whether it meets the legal framework, and only consider 'material considerations' (we can't take into account whether we trust the developer or not).
As this development was such an issue during the election, the developer could argue that I entered the process with a 'closed mind'. This would allow them to overturn any objection, meaning the council had even less control over the process.
I trust my ability to review an application. I believe I can and would have acted appropriately and within the rules. I do not think I have a closed mind.
But I don't want to give the impression of it being otherwise.
Had my colleagues rejected the application and it go to government, they may have overturned it based on election campaign materials.
For this reason, to protect the integrity of the process and to prevent me from becoming the reason it goes ahead, I removed myself from this part of the meeting.
The application was approved, without me, by 5 votes to 1.