Explaining new planning process we are trailling

PUBLISHED: 10:35 14 July 2008 | UPDATED: 09:17 10 June 2010

In response to letters published in last week s Journal, I felt it would be useful to dispel some myths about the planning process and how we are trialling a new way of working. The first thing to explain is that neighbours, nearby residents, parish and t

In response to letters published in last week's Journal, I felt it would be useful to dispel some myths about the planning process and how we are trialling a new way of working.The first thing to explain is that neighbours, nearby residents, parish and town councils, ward councillors and other agencies, will always be able to object to, or support, planning applications. However, the decision on the application ultimately has to be made by the district council and they are legally obliged firstly to take into account adopted local and national planning policy and guidance. We can only take objections into account if they relate to "material planning reasons". This means that, unless they are certain types of issue, they cannot have any influence on the planning decision. So the district council's overall scope for refusal or approval is less extensive than many people imagine.East Devon District Council handle about 3,500 planning applications a year. Some are very contentious, but most are not. Over time our systems for handing applications have become over-complicated which slows them down. Meanwhile, the national planning process is changing rapidly. We are currently working with some consultants to help cut out the bits of the work which have been shown to add little benefit to the new process.All planning applications received are now immediately notified by e-mail to ward councillors and to parish or town councils. They are also placed on our website (see the 'Planning On-line' section) and plans are posted to town council offices to be viewed. Each individual application is reviewed by pllanning officers to identify what is the most appropriate way to consult on them. We always notify, by letter, any neighbours who could be directly affected by the application. Where a site notice is an effective way of notifying people who may be directly affected, we will use these. Equally, where a press notice is likely to be an effective way to reach people who will be directly affected, we will use these.This new approach is just one example of how we will be dealing with each application individually rather than forcing them all through the same, often inappropriate process. This is partly about better speed, partly about less cost, and partly about appropriateness. All of it is about giving a better service to the planning applicants, while ensuring that we hear from those people who will be directly affected so that any "material planning reasons" can be taken into account.We appreciate that this is a slightly different approach to the past and some people may be concerned about it, but we are trying to improve the process. The result should better reflect the reality of the current nationally prescribed planning process, give a response (whether positive or negative) more quickly for applicants, and also save cost.We can fine tune the process if it doesn't deliver exactly what is needed. However, we remain unconvinced that the press and site notices are always beneficial, and feel they may add only real value in certain cases, which we will try to identify. We currently intend to keep the three-week consultation process (though legally it only needs to be two weeks).I hope that, although local residents may have some reservations about the changes, they will appreciate that improving appropriateness of the planning process can benefit everyone. So please judge it by its outcomes rather than weigh it against the traditional approach. As always, we are happy to review our processes if they are not delivering what is needed for East Devon residents. Dr Jennings pointed out some concerns in last week's Journal which we are specifically reviewing.Peter Jeffs,Corporate Director,East Devon District Council.

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