Planning procedures and decisions
As clerk to various parish councils I have noticed the planning process is not always fully understood and I thought a few words might help. I write as no more than a clerk, not a lawyer or qualified planner.
Applying for planning permission is straightforward enough by completing the application in consultation with the planning authority's case officer, for which fees are payable. But what happens thereafter is not always clear.
Once an application has been made it is registered and advertised by the local planning authority and details are immediately available for inspection at the local planning authority's offices or may be viewed and downloaded from its website. That website will carry a dedicated planning portal updated as to all comments received for and against the application as well as maintaining timelines against which decisions must be made. It is to the local planning authority that comments should be made.
In all areas the local planning authority is the district council. There are exceptions where the county council will be the appropriate planning authority for mineral working, recycling and the like. Some infra-structure projects such as power stations and transport go direct to the Secretary of State, cutting right through the planning process.
One thing is certain; parish councils are not planning authorities and have no planning powers of their own. In planning matters a parish council is entitled to receive copies of all planning applications within its boundaries, but is merely asked to pass its observations back to the planning authority. These are observations only and do not carry the weight of approval or rejection, although points can be made strongly when appropriate. In fact, there is no legal requirement for a parish council even to submit its own observations.
All observations received in respect of an application will be logged by the planning authority and a parish council is afforded the courtesy of having its observations reproduced or summarised fairly within the advance planning officers' report which recommends approval or rejection for the district council members who will determine the application. That report is available on the planning website ahead of the committee meeting. Other organisations, both local and those concerned nationally with heritage, and the like may also have their comments reproduced. Thus, it is always possible in advance of any decision by the planning authority to gauge the strength of opinion and then attend the committee meeting to add weight one way or the other by taking advantage of the scheduled three minutes public speaking time. However, many decisions are made by officers and applications may only go before the committee if felt to be contentious or arousing wide public interest.
It will be appreciated from all this that if there are strong feelings in respect of an application, the focus of attention should always be the district council; the parish council is just one more voice in the process without planning powers. Sometimes a district council will agree with the observations of a parish council, other times it may just as easily override them. Where a parish council has real concern for the best interests and long term future of a community it will lobby as best it can and make use of its own three minutes speaking time.
What I have written so far is general to all parish and district councils. For Cookley and Walpole the usual body with power to determine the outcome of planning applications is Suffolk Coastal District Council. In the event of a refusal by officers or committee, the applicant still retains a right of appeal to the Secretary of State whose decision could trump that of the District.
The only statutory duty to consult third parties (residents, tenants or other interested groups) lies with the District Council. Suffolk Coastal District Council will display a site notice, but is not obliged to write to individual properties. However, as a minimum, the District Council does still try to write to those sharing a boundary with the application site. This appears to be a reduced service due to ‘austerity cuts'. The District Council will also place a list of applications weekly in the East Anglian Daily Times and on the planning website.
When copies of applications are received by Cookley & Walpole Parish Council time is made available in the next available parish council or if urgent a committee will be called. In all cases notice is given on the village notice boards as well as on the Cookpole website by way of a published agenda. Applications will also be notified to parishioners who have subscribed to the Cookpole email list to receive such mailings. The parish council does not receive applications in electronic format, but the clerk will do his best to make sight of any hard copy application available on request if access to Suffolk Coastal District Council sources is difficult. The parish council regularly hosts public meetings in respect of applications when deemed appropriate. Time is always made at the beginning of parish council or committee meetings for public discussion. The parish council will listen to parishioners, outside agencies and interested parties, but then, as a corporate body having a legal existence separate from and greater than its members, must proceed to determine its own observations as a council, even if sometimes conflicts of interest may arise.
I hope this has helped.
Raymond Catchpole, Clerk to Cookley & Walpole Parish Council.