I'm heading my post with a really descriptive title because I'm about to have a moan and I would really like this post to reach the media monitors for the Department for Communities and Local Government and Eric Pickles.
I've spent most of today - a bank holiday - reading yet another planning application for yet another large dwelling proposed in open countryside. What's making me really cross is that I'm probably wasting my time. I'll be wasting my time writing my comments. I'll be wasting my time turning up to the planning meeting. Why?
Well the planning officer dealing with it has already said in a really chatty email to the architect addressing him by his forename: "In conclusion then, I feel more up to date information ................ and and further investigation ............. In all other respects I consider that the proposal is acceptable." Yes, approval, given in this case some six months before the public even gets a look at the proposal. He's suggesting the application provides a bit more information and then he's home and dry.
The principle of a local authority providing and charging for advice has been long established, but in the past planning officers have been somewhat careful not to prejudice a decision. For although they might give advice, it's not their decision. That must be made by elected members of the local authority at a meeting in a quasi judicial process.
Now it seems with the possibility to charge for the service, planning officers are raking in the cash for their local authorities by spending large amounts of time actually assisting developers. Working with them on the detail in order to facilitate approval.
Now if you ask the average architect they'll admit it's quite common to distort reality when it comes to information in a planning application. For instance the one I'm currently looking at claims that the site isn't very visible. Actually it's completely surrounded by public rights of way: one byway, one road and two footpaths from most of which it is highly visible. But you'll only know that if you have walked all the way round these rights of way and looked at the site from all directions - both in summer and winter. Has the planning officer done that? - has he heck!
It's only when local residents get involved, when the application is submitted that the detail in the application gets tested and any bending of the truth will be uncovered. But of course, by this time the planning officer has already made up his mind that the application is acceptable.
This isn't localism; I cannot imagine why the Conservative party thinks it is; it isn't democratic and it's a sure recipe for an unpleasant corruption which has crept into the planning process. When you add to that the National Planning Policy Framework, a document so woolly and imprecise that you could drive a double decker bus through it, which favours developers above the indigenous population, we have a recipe for terrible and irreversible damage to this green and pleasant land.