The Planning Inspectorate has upheld an appeal by Gabriele Bramante against Croydon council, overturning its persistent refusal to grant detailed planning permission for two semi-detached homes for which she already had outline permission. In a case which former riba president David Rock described as 'a very good example of the planning rules being misapplied', Croydon planner Andrew Frost took issue with numerous details of the design and Bramante made three separate planning applications over 18 months for her client, a housing authority. In his report, delivered in a record ten days, the planning inspector dismissed most of the council's objections and ruled that the others could be dealt with.
Bramante said: 'Mr Frost made very specific design suggestions - he said the building would have to be rectilinear, to have a pitched roof of a certain height, the ridge had to be pointed, the eaves must overhang, the windows must be of uniform size. I couldn't understand what was going on any more.'
Bramante's proposal (section above right), which she describes as 'a modest social housing scheme', is for two large semi-detached houses, each capable of providing a home for a family of ten, a need identified by the housing authority. The scheme is in one of the most run-down parts of the borough, on a derelict industrial site used as a rubbish dump and infested with rats. After concepts such as a courtyard scheme were rejected, Bramante submitted a scheme with the same building envelope as the present one for outline planning permission, and included detailed drawings. Outline permission was granted, but it was when she submitted the detailed application she was told that the 'design falls well below the minimum design standards acceptable to Croydon Council and the interior layout and number of bedrooms is unacceptable.' Another reason given for refusal was that 'the development would be out of keeping with the character of the locality'.
Bramante contacted David Rock, then still president of the riba, and he wrote to the planning inspectorate strongly supporting her appeal. He received a letter back from Karen Fossett, an area team manager at Croydon, accusing him of writing 'in such an aggressive and confrontational way'.
However, the planning inspector in his report said, 'the proposed building would have the merit of a conscious design approach, which would to my mind provide a visual uplift in the somewhat drab surroundings, and would create an attractive and interesting environment.' He recommended that development start as soon as possible given the run-down nature of the site.
Bramante was delighted with the result, and full of praise for Rock's efforts. 'It reinstated my faith in the riba,' she said. 'I thought it was totally amazing.' She added, 'I have been racking my brains how we can control these planning officers. They are not accountable.'
... as planning inspectors get ready to strike over low pay
The Planning Inspectorate is gearing up for industrial action against its detr paymasters unless inspectors are paid more. Some 230 inspectors want an independent review of their pay, claiming their salary scales, ranging from £27,000 to £46,000, are too low. They compare with £89,000 for a similarly qualified member of a land tribunal, said Elizabeth Jenkins, a negotiator from the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists. Architects' average earnings are £28,500.
Jenkins recently met planning minister Richard Caborn, before his reshuffle to the dti, and told him the union had authorised a ballot on industrial action. The case has been passed on to the Treasury and Cabinet Office, which are looking at how to resolve the stand-off.
Jenkins said most inspectors' jobs had the same clout as those in the senior civil service but this was not reflected in their pay structure. 'Planning inspectors carry out a quasi-judicial role function with a high profile.' The institution would not say what form of action its members would take until the final word from the government.