Planning changes beg questions

PUBLISHED: 13:38 21 July 2008 | UPDATED: 09:19 10 June 2010

Frankly, the attempt to allay our fears about the new planning process has not been effective and begs many questions (Mr Jeffs' letter last week). If we are to judge it by its outcomes , to which outcomes does Peter Jeffs refer? Keeping the customer

Frankly, the attempt to allay our fears about the new planning process has not been effective and begs many questions (Mr Jeffs' letter last week). If we are to "judge it by its outcomes", to which outcomes does Peter Jeffs refer? Keeping 'the customer' - ie the developer - happy, reaching government targets, or by the appropriateness of the development in its proposed setting? We also are interested in, and committed to, the notion of 'improving the appropriateness of the planning process'. Anything that makes for a safer process, whereby a better outcome is achieved in terms of the local environment, is to be applauded. However, we are concerned about the 'management speak' being used in this pilot which seems to have been interpreted in an erroneous way. The planning process, as we see it, has two customers - one the developer, and the other Exmouth residents. But, whereas the consultation process with the developers is quite rightly being streamlined and improved, the solution for residents seems to be to reduce, and sometimes remove, the possibility of consultation. Of course, this will speed things up, but is it more effective? As Peter Jeffs says, it is true that "neighbours, nearby residents, parish and town councils, ward councillors and other agencies will always be able to object to, or support, planning applications" but only if they are kept informed. And that should be a primary concern for EDDC. EDDC are relying very heavily on internet access, even though approximately a third of the population do not have access, and how would anyone know that there was anything to be checked if press or site notices are not regularly used for all proposals? We would be most interested to know what criteria the consultants used to judge 'the bits of the work that have been shown to add little benefit to the new process'? The implication seems to be that it is unnecessary comments that do not relate to material planning reasons from the public which slow down the process, as EDDC 'remain unconvinced that site and press notices are always beneficial'? How would they judge this? This change to the process may speed it up, but does it provide overall efficiency in terms of the final outcome, ie the development, which will be in situ for possibly 50 years?From our point of view, the 'old' system worked reasonably well. Over the past six years that SAD has been in existence, we have aimed to keep The Avenues' residents informed of the planning process and institute ways of aiding them to access and object if they see fit. This has included giving information about 'material planning reasons' through newsletters and the regular involvement of EDDC officers in our public meetings. We also spent almost two years preparing The Avenues' Design Statement in conjunction with discussion and advice from EDDC officers. This publication is about 'material planning reasons' and a copy of which is owned by every member of SAD. The document was adopted by EDDC and provides a tool for people concerned about their environment and helps individuals to respond in an appropriate manner to local proposals. Surely more information is needed when decisions affect the community, not less? Under the new system, planning officers have to judge on an individual basis what kind of publicity is required and to whom neighbourhood letters should be sent. We have, over the past 18 months, acquired an almost totally new set of planning officers. How will they be able to judge whether an application requires wider publicity or not? Planning officers will not always know all the aspects that may be of legitimate planning concern to residents, or the history of a particular application. There appear to be no criteria laid down for them to use to judge the most appropriate way of consulting with the public, either by site notices or neighbourhood letters. What criteria have the planning officers been given to ensure an equitable treatment of all applications?We are concerned that consultation with the public is being sidelined to a serious degree, both in the new Vanguard planning process and in information flow to the public and our elected members. This new process was brought in overnight in April, without prior warning that such drastic changes were being made to the system - consequently, residents no longer know where they are! Does EDDC? Peter Jeffs' letter is too little, too late!For and on behalf of SAD (Save the Avenues from Despoliation

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