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The Diary of an Anonymous Architect #4

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The fourth in a new series about the day-to-day travails of an embattled practitioner. This week: Planning Appeal

It’s a mystery, it’s a mystery………. Toyah/Keith Hale                       

Early morning rain, clouds. Could be a silver lining – we’re off to meet the planners.

But planning has changed, or is it just us?  It seems near impossible to get to meet a planner these days.  We’ve always liked planners - a collaboration that can bring out the best in a project.  When it’s good it’s very good - someone on the inside of the process working for the same outcome as us on the outside – like having a fifth Beatle.

One authority no longer allows us to speak to their planner

Pre-application, or any, advice is hard to come by.  One authority no longer allows us to speak to their planners. We have to email – asking a planner to call back, please. They don’t seem to like it either.

Two other recent innovations seem equally unappealing. 

The duty planner. Caveats usually make this service of doubtful benefit –’this isn’t my area; this is informal advice; if you want proper advice make an application’ etc, etc.

Or, try the pre-application letter. Yes there’s a charge – anything from £30 to £120 and rising – and a timescale – anything (most recently) up to six weeks. So that’s almost a planning application then.

Even planning applications seem to be under threat. One client working with others outside our area submitted an application.  The planners decided, on decision day, to return the application and the fee.  They didn’t want to accept it – inconvenient to have to approve it apparently.  I’ve never seen that move before – maybe living a sheltered life…..

Another client considering a large development that will create many, many jobs and change the fortunes of the district has been told he can have pre-app planning meetings at £500 a go. Other authorities want more and this presumably related to the tuition fees argument…… 

Another authority accepted our application. Long before decision day the planners agreed to support the application but with some changes.  So withdraw the app and resubmit for a ‘free go’.  But no, the application so differed from the original, at their request, they decided to treat it as a new application……with a new fee.  And they interpreted their guidance to double the fee due, an extra cost of several thousands.  We resisted but after many fruitless attempts accepted our clients’ increasingly frustrated demands for a meeting - with the duty planner!  But what a shock. No caveats, straightforward advice and our argument on the fee accepted - ‘the fee should be lower’ - he would take it up in the department.  Weeks went by, the planners eventually wrote to say they would only accept the application with the higher fee. 

And the most helpful duty planner?  He’d been retired…….

Surely the present hiatus allows time for some radical planning not seeking ways to exploit what customers they have to swell their coffers?  The future of shopping, housing, employment, recreation and the settlements that support them all seem in need of inspiration.  That could get our threatened planners out of bed in the morning instead of another hour of dreamless sleep……yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

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