How to have your say on planning
At the Malmesbury Area Board Meeting on 18th January, a presentation designed to inform members of the community about how they can get involved in the planning process was given by Brian Taylor of Wilts Council. It had been set up in the light of two major planning applications for a supermarket and housing, with another supermarket application expected in shortly too.
Read on for full presentation notes...
Have Your Say
(Presentation by Brian Taylor (BT), Area Development Manager for North Wiltshire)
The presentation was designed to inform members of the community about how they can get involved in the planning process. It had been set up in the light of two major planning applications for a supermarket and housing, with another supermarket application expected in shortly too.
Before taking questions, an overview of how the planning application process works was given, particularly as all applications are dealt with in the same way, whether large or small and that the same principles apply.
Firstly, applicants are encouraged to consult with the community, prior to submitting their application. Once submitted to Wiltshire Council, they check it through to make sure everything is correctly submitted and that all documents are present. The application is then publicised, including online where all documents are made available. All documents are sent to the local councils and immediate neighbours. Green signs are put up at the site and notices go into the press too.
Consultation is undertaken with technical experts.
Anyone is entitled to comment, not just those living nearby or just those that are invited to comment.
Proposals can be seen online or by visiting the Planning Office in Chippenham or the local councils have them. It was noted that there is a lot of paperwork and any queries can be brought to the Planning Department to be answered. Whilst a Case Officer is publicised, it is also possible to speak to the rest of the team in the department.
To make a comment on an application it must be in writing, whether by email, the comments form on the web site or in a posted letter and it must also include the specific planning application reference. Comments cannot be anonymous – a name is required.
People have shown concern about the 21 day period available to make comments. However, in practice it’s very much longer and the period is often extended. The Sainsbury’s application will, in reality, take a long period of time and comments must legally be taken into account until the day an application is decided.
Wiltshire Council will write to everyone who has submitted a comment to confirm when an application is coming up for a committee hearing.
Comments must relate to material planning consideration, based on local Plan Policies and national Plan Policies, e.g. traffic, roads, what it looks like (landscape), privacy, overbearing.
An objection that can’t be taken into account is the devaluation impact. Any objection to this needs to be based on the specific reasons as to why the development would have a devaluation impact.
Private right, covenants etc. are separate and cannot be taken into account.
There are two ways in which decisions are made. Around 95% of applications are dealt with by officers using policy set down nationally or locally. The rest go to Planning Committee, or even to the ‘Strategic Planning Committee’ if very significant with a wide enough impact.
Firstly, it was confirmed that both supermarket applications will be considered together and will go to Committee – as it’s about what’s right for Malmesbury.
Cllr Kim Power requested that the committee hearing is held in Malmesbury because of concerns over the size of the premises at Chippenham and accessibility.
Brian Taylor confirmed that whilst he couldn’t make the decision on the spot, it would be referred back for consideration.
Aimee Frankham (Chamber of Commerce): Planning Policy – can surveys be requested? The Chamber of Commerce would like to request a specific retail study for Malmesbury alone. The existing group survey of 96 residents to date is from a population of over 3000 and therefore was felt to be irrelevant.
BT explained the difference in the two types of survey; one is local views and one is retail impact, which has a far wider reach than what residents think, e.g. whether a proposal is too large or too small etc. Also, Wiltshire Council use their own retail consultants to check studies independently.
Roger Budgen (Residents’ Association) asked how the Neighbourhood Plan fits in with current policy, and which document holds more weight.
BT said it’s the most difficult period in which to assess applications because the Core Strategy is not yet full adopted but lots of ideas are coming through. The North Wiltshire local plan is current but the Core Strategy is gaining more weight. The Neighbourhood Plan will have more weight in the future but less weight currently as there has been no formal consultation and adoption.
Steve Cox (Mayor) agreed with Cllr Kim Power’s earlier point about the venue for the consultation, in that it should be held in Malmesbury. He also strongly suggested that the sports centre would be a good place for everyone to be able to attend.
Martin Rutter asked whether it would be possible to be more specific about the length of time that the supermarket application might take.
BT couldn’t confirm but suspected it wouldn’t be before 13 weeks because of the complexity of the two applications competing for the ‘same ground’.
Tristan Cork asked what resources go into public enquiries and fighting appeals, as we have four applications that are likely to go to appeal, as Park Road already has.
BT: If the Council decides to refuse an application, they will need to justify their reasons, stand up and defend them. There are four or five going on at the moment and legal, highways and planning input is second to none, although not limitless. All appeals are resisted as vigorously as possible.
The presentation was repeated again for the benefit of those who couldn’t fit into the hall the first time around. Over 40 people attended this second presentation.
Additional comments: The supermarket application may go beyond 13 weeks.
ALL comments received right up until the decision is made are OBLIGED to be taken into account. 1st / 2nd February is the official deadline (date needs to be checked) but comments can still be submitted after this date, right up to the end of the 13 week period.
Impact on the town centre IS a relevant comment to make against the application.
For further information on the planning process, the National Planning Portal web site is a very useful resource.
Malmesbury is a pilot for the Neighbourhood Planning process. It’s an exciting way for the town to be a part of the planning process and its future but lots of developers are trying to get in first. This is really relevant; an exciting way to engage the community. Would Wiltshire Council consider a pause to allow Neighbourhood Planning to take a lead?
BT explained that Wiltshire Council cannot ‘not’ determine an application and the applicant has to be provided with reasons, along with an opportunity to appeal against the decision. An application can be refused on grounds of prematurity if it’s considered to be derailing the process. However, good progress needs to be shown in the Neighbourhood Plan.
BT went on to explain: So many different things are happening in the planning process but WC still have to use the adopted plan. Eric Pickles is making comments every week, making the process very confused so any defence has to be strong.
Bill Sykes (Residents’ Association) With the Neighbourhood Plan quite some long way away, felt it’s clear that Sainsbury’s and the other developers are all deliberately coming in under the wire.
BT: The emphasis is on Localism but also economic development, to bring forward development, i.e. freeing up planning to get the economy going again. Applicants will be looking at these government statements.
Bill Sykes: Wiltshire Council’s Town Centre Retail Study adopted as informed opinion. Council should seek to oppose any application that would have a negative impact on trading performance.
BT agreed but asked ‘will it or won’t it’? IF Wiltshire Council decides it’s correct, the applicants will have an opposing view. Wiltshire Council will be going to retail consultants.
A question was asked about the proportion of supermarkets that are turned down and then granted on appeal. BT was unable to answer with specific regard to supermarkets but in general Wiltshire Council tends to win 60-70% of appeals.
In response to being asked why both applications would be looked at together, BT felt it was what was best for Malmesbury. Both could be approved or rejected – there are no assumptions. It just seems reasonable to look at them together.
Miles Widnall referred to Sainsbury’s having confirmed that they’ve had no contact with Gleeson. It’s key – driven by the Core Strategy, as 700 homes and a supermarket are included but only 200 remain to be built. Therefore, if Gleeson and Sainsbury’s were to get the go-ahead now, all development within the Core Strategy would have been delivered right up to 2026. Malmesbury is now a Front Runner but the entire Core Strategy could be taken up beforehand if these are approved. The Neighbourhood Plan would have to be accepted, followed by a referendum – would it carry weight with planners?
BT: A referendum, if simply ‘yes/no’ wouldn’t be informative. For example, it could provide 1000 responses but that would be no good without reasons.
Roger Budgen (Residents’ Association) asked whether a single document, such as the results of a poll would carry weight. BT confirmed that it would, so long as reasons were included.
Retail Assessments supplied by a developer were questioned, as this is their own view. Whilst Wiltshire Council will bring in their own independent experts to assess them, BT was asked where ‘new’ information would come from. BT confirmed that their independent Retail Consultants will assess documentation in full, which will include bringing in new points if necessary. They will look at whether the submission is complete and Wiltshire Council will take their results as being correct. When asked whether the findings can be made public, BT acknowledged that they can but it can sometimes be tight on timings. He warned it can be complicated too – one might need to be somewhat ‘nerdy’ to get to the bottom of it.
Wiltshire Council use known, local firms with local knowledge to undertake / assess Retail Studies, BT responded to a question about whether Retail Studies might be quantitative rather than qualitative. However, he acknowledged that sometimes firms will agree with the applicant.
BT was asked when the current retail study will be complete as number crunching will need to be done on the new data currently being obtained. BT stated that Wiltshire, as a whole has commissioned a study for demand for retail study. The line of questioning was pursued with a query over the continuation of the growth paradigm, with serious concerns over why the same tone was still being taken, e.g. extra growth. BT stated that this was specifically being driven by the current government.
When asked why other supermarkets in the past had been refused in other places, BT explained that it might have been because they were too far from the town centre, leading to an adverse effect on the town centre, which might also mean that town centre proposals were less likely to come forward in future.
BT referred to the number of people that leave Malmesbury to do their weekly shop, and questioned whether they might also shop in those town centres. He confirmed that those scenarios have been followed through, with all feedback being taken on board, which has proved useful.
The question of whether both supermarket applications should be approved, if they’re considered beneficial to a town centre. BT said he has already heard arguments for this. However, the main bone of contention is the town centre.
BT said that conditions could potentially be imposed on what a supermarket could and couldn’t sell but they would need to be reasonable, otherwise the supermarket could appeal.
Marc Brown queried the Sainsbury’s application in Chippenham, which went to the Northern Area Committee. It was then postponed, members of the committee were changed, who had different opinions, and it was then approved.
BT felt that the objectors didn’t have robust arguments, then the committee was naturally different.
Marc Brown asked about the pre-application phase, and why Gleeson were able to forego the environmental impact requirement. Also, how can we challenge it?
BT assumed they went through regulations – there are clear guidelines.
Marc Brown moved onto the issue of education. He stated that there are currently 180 primary school places in village primary schools so this means there is no requirement for a Section 106 contribution on the developer.
A further question was raised as to what impact the supermarket might have on education provision. BT felt it would be very difficult to argue that a supermarket would have any impact on education requirements.
Miles Widnall has copies of statements – areas (unsure what this relates to – must check)
Another resident asked whether the community would have any right to appeal if planning were granted and where do we get the best guidance, e.g. lawyers? BT confirmed that there is currently no right to 3rd party appeal. However, if Wiltshire Council have acted inappropriately this can be taken up. Legal advisers are available locally. This would need to be funded independently as Wiltshire Council is the community’s arbiter, to which MW added that funding through the Neighbourhood Plan would be available but not in the timeframe available.
A question was asked as to what undesirable reasons might be, that could be countered by a Section 106 agreement. BT explained it’s about contributions for impacts, e.g. extra strain on the infrastructure, e.g. increases in traffic might be countered by a roundabout. However, if fundamentally objectionable, Section 106 agreements can’t get past this.
The make up of the deciding committee was queried and it was confirmed that there is just one member in Malmesbury, Cllr Simon Killane.
Comments were raised about other 106 contributions; the Park Road development would have provided £250k for education; Gleeson, land for a school but in Melksham, Asda’s contributions simply filled a hole in council funds so no actual improvements were achieved.