Activist’s Guide to the Planning System
Remember, this is an ‘historical site’. don’t rely on this info now
Beating the Developers
An Activist’s Guide to the Planning System
The Land is Ours
Box E, 111 Magdalen Road
OXFORD OX4 1RQ
Tel: 01865 722016.
Compiled by Richard Moyse
Many thanks are due to –
Brian, Marion and Neil at Gillingham Borough Council,
Sarah at Stroud District Council,
Jackie at Slad Valley Action Group,
Celia at Save Lyminge Forest Action Group,
and Dr Peter Gray.
1.1 Many people are unhappy about the rapid changes that are taking place in
towns and in the countryside, but feel unable to do anything about it. In actual
fact, there are many ways to make your voice heard, and one of the most important
and effective ways is by making use of the Planning System. It is true that
development interests are large and powerful, and often very much part of the
establishment; but, armed with some knowledge of Planning, it is possible to
take the battle onto their turf, and to win.
2. The Planning System
2.1 Almost all new building work, and most changes in the use of land or
buildings, come under the control of the Town and Country Planning
System. The Planning System controls how land is used – for instance,
whether a particular area is used for housing, farming, industry, shops, or
recreation – and the size and shape of new buildings and other developments.
Planning shapes, but does not drive, change: the fact that there is
pressure for development is largely due to economic factors, or to policy at one
or another level of government.
2.2 Land use and development is controlled in two ways, known as Forward
Planning and Development Control. Forward Planning is a
‘scene-setting’ process, which lays down the planning policies for an area,
states which areas are considered suitable for what sort of development, and
sets out the standards which developments will be required to meet. Development
Control puts Forward Planning into practice, by giving or refusing permission to
individual development proposals.
2.3 This book deals with the planning system in England and Wales. In
Scotland, the planning system is similar to the rest of mainland Britain,
although the Scottish Office oversees the system and issues its own Planning
2.4 In Northern Ireland, the system is very different. The only Planning
Authority for Northern Ireland is the Department of the Environment Northern
Ireland (DoE NI). Local Authorities are consulted on planning issues, but cannot
make planning decisions. Not only does DoE NI decide the policy framework and
determine Planning Applications, but it also rules on Planning Appeals, through
a nominally independent appeals panel.
Who makes the decisions?
Planning decisions are made by the Local Planning Authority.
For most developments, this is the Planning Committee of the local council.
However, for some functions, notably waste and minerals-extraction, it may be
the County Council. In the National Parks, the relevant National Park Authority
makes most planning decisions. In Northern Ireland, the only planning authority
is the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland (DoE NI).
3. Forward Planning
In the National Parks (including the Norfolk Broads, which does
not actually have full National Park status), it is the duty of the relevant
National Park Authority (or Broads Authority) to draw up the local plan, not the
3.1 All Borough, City and District Councils have to draw up a Local
Plan. These are detailed documents which describe how land is to be used
within the borough, city or district. They cover such things as housing (how
many, where, what sort), employment (what sorts of industries are encouraged,
where they can locate), retail (town centre versus out-of-town, etc.), leisure
(sports centres, playing fields, footpaths, country parks), transport (new
roads, cycle ways, etc.), social development (schools, health centres), and
countryside (trees and woodland, farming, important landscapes).
3.2 The Local Plan is usually made up of a set of written and numbered
policies, together with a series of detailed maps which show where different
policies apply. Development pressures are so high, and therefore the need for
control so great, that every square inch of undeveloped land is often covered by
one or more policies. Although this is based on a proper desire to protect land
from inappropriate development, it does make the planning system very rigid.
3.3 The creation of a Local Plan is a long process involving formal
consultation of a wide range of interested parties (including developers, sports
and leisure bodies, conservation and amenity groups, community groups and
individual residents) and ending with a public hearing, known as a Public Local
Inquiry, in front of a Planning Inspector from the Department of the
3.4 The Local Plan is not entirely under local control. The Local Plan must
conform with the Structure Plan drawn up by the County Council. The
Structure Plan sets out broad planning principles for the whole county, and
deals with transport, mineral extraction and waste disposal, countryside
protection, and the amount of new housing in each borough. Consultation is also
part of the process of drawing up the Structure Plan. Structure Plans are
required to conform with government-issued Regional Planning
3.5 In addition, the Local Plan must take into account Government policy.
Government policy on land use and planning matters is mainly set out in Planning
Circulars from the DoE, and, most importantly, in Planning Policy Guidance
Notes(PPGs). The Secretary of State for the Environment does have the power
to modify Local Plans, although his/her approval is not explicitly required
before a plan can be adopted.
3.6 In Scotland, planning guidance is issued by the Scottish Office as
National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPGs). In Northern Ireland, the DoE
NI does not publish any planning policy guidance documents (although a document
describing the planning process in Northern Ireland is apparently in the
pipeline), and Local Plans are not produced.
3.7 In the case of some Unitary Authorities, the Local Plan is part
of a Unitary Development Plan (UDP) which also includes a Structure Plan
section. This is because Unitary Authorities do not come under the control of
a county-level authority. The two parts of a UDP are drawn up in the same way
as an ordinary Structure Plan and Local Plan.
Other Local Plans
Minerals Local Plans (dealing with the extraction if minerals)
and Waste Local Plans (dealing with waste disposal) may be produced by the relevant
planning authorities. In both cases, this is usually the County Council or Unitary
Authority. In National Parks, these matters are determined by the National Park
Planning Policy Guidance Notes – in all their
There are currently 24 PPGs. They are revised from time
to time (and numbers are re-used as certain titles become defunct), so
make sure you get an up-to-date copy. This list is as accurate as I can
make it at the time of writing. They were all available at the county
Minerals-winning’ – essentially quarrying – is dealt with in Minerals
Planning Guidance Notes (MPGs).
General Policy and Principles
Industrial and Commercial Development and Small Firms
Simplified Planning Zones
Town Centres and Retail Developments
The Countryside – Environmental Quality and Economic and Social
Strategic Guidance for the West Midlands
Strategic Guidance for Merseyside
Development Plans and Regional Planning Guidance
Development on Unstable Land
Planning and the Historic Environment
Archaeology and Planning
Sport and Recreation
Enforcing Planning Control
Outdoor Advertisement Control
Planning and Pollution Control
Planning and Noise
4. Development Control.
4.1 Anyone or any organisation (with some exceptions – see section 9) that
wants to develop or change the use of any piece of land must make a Planning
Applicationto the Local Planning Authority (LPA).
4.2 A Planning Application includes written and drawn details of the proposed
development. In the case of certain major developments, such as oil refineries
or toxic waste dumps, an Environmental Impact Assessment is also required
by law. The LPA can ask for Environmental Assessments for other large scale
developments which it thinks may be environmentally damaging.
4.3 Planning Officers assess Planning Applications against national and local
planning policies. In the case of some small developments, Planning Officers
themselves are able to grant or refuse Planning Permission. However, the
application is usually referred to the Planning Committee of the Local
Authority: the Planning Officers will normally recommend whether Planning
Permission is granted or refused, but the final decision is up to the Elected
Members(Councillors) on the committee.
4.4 The LPA will use its Local Plan when deciding whether or not a
development should be allowed to go ahead. Normally, a development will be
approved if it is in line with the Local Plan, and meets other planning laws and
guidelines. A Planning Application which is not in line with the Local Plan will
normally be rejected.
4.5 If a developer finds that their Planning Application has been rejected,
they can appeal to the Department of the Environment, which will set up
an Inquiry. The final decision on the application is made by a DoE
4.6 It is worth noting that recent government planning guidance means the
Inspector must normally follow the Local Plan when making a
Planning permission vs
Trees, woods and hedges
Planning Permission over-rides certain other forms of planning
protection. For instance, a developer may apply to build on a woodland which is
protected by a blanket Tree Preservation Order (TPO). If permission is granted
then the TPO no longer applies, and the developer will not be committing an
offence by clearing the wood. However, it would be reasonable to expect the
developer to avoid damage to any trees to be retained in the finished
development. Likewise, Planning Permission overrides any protection conferred on
hedges by the Hedgerows Regulations.
5. Fighting a Planning Application.
5.1 Unlike developers, objectors have no right of appeal. If the Local
Planning Authority decides to accept a Planning Application, it is almost
impossibleto have the decision reversed. You can write to the Secretary of
State for the Environment and ask for the application to be ‘called in’ for an
inquiry. However, the Government has made it very clear that this will only be
done in exceptional circumstances, and where the development raises issues of
national or regional importance.
5.2 So it is vital to get in early – you must act as soon as the Planning
Application is made. If you miss the closing date for objections, your opinions
will go unheard, and there will be nothing, short of direct action, that you can
do about it. Even if you do go for direct action, you will lose credibility as a
campaigner if you have not at least tried to fight the application through the
official channels first. This cannot be emphasised enough: do not wait until
the bulldozers move in – by then it will be much too late.
5.3 Planning Applications have to be publicly advertised. Notices giving
details of an application are sent to people likely to be affected (usually the
immediate neighbours), and may also be posted on site where the development is
large or on open land. A brief weekly list of current Planning Applications in
the area is published in at least one local newspaper, and a complete list is
always available for view at the Planning Department of the local council. Local
organisations which are regularly consulted by the LPA can ask to be sent weekly
planning lists as they are produced. If you really feel that it would help your
group to receive weekly lists, then ask to be sent them (this may take some
wheedling and persuasion) – but remember that there will be pages of them, and
that they will consist mainly of applications for house extensions, shop signs,
and so on.
5.4 For fuller details of a particular application, ask to see the original
at the local Planning Department – Planning Applications are public documents.
Planning Officers will normally take time to explain the application to you, and
to discuss any concerns. Applications for large developments may include vast
amounts of detailed information – an Environmental Impact Assessment may be an
inch or more thick – so you will have to be prepared to spend a lot of time
wading through it all.
5.5 If you wish to object to the application (or support it!), then you must
make your comments in writing by the end of the consultation period. This is
usually 21 days – the exact closing date will be on notices sent out or placed
on site. Note that the consultation period may be longer if the application is
particularly difficult or controversial: contact the Planning Officers if in
doubt, or if you think you may need more time to put your case together.
5.6 The LPA cannot turn down a Planning Application just because lots of
people object to it. Rejection must be based on what are called Material
5.7 A Material Consideration can be any matter related to the use of land and
the development in question. It’s a bit of a fuzzy definition, but it can
include the size and nature of the development; the impact of the development on
landscape, wildlife, or resources such as groundwater; the availability of
infrastructure (for example, roads, water supply, waste water treatment
capacity); and the effect of the development on the neighbourhood.
“Material considerations must be genuine planning
considerations, ie they must be related to the purpose of planning legislation,
which is to regulate the development and use of land in the public interest. The
considerations must also fairly and reasonably relate to the application
5.8 Material Considerations cannot include any matters covered by other
legislation; for instance, the potential pollution from a proposed factory might
not be a material consideration, as pollution limits are set by specific laws.
In this case, it would be up to the Environment Agency to say whether or
not the factory could operate – but only once Planning Permission was
5.9 So, when you object to an application, it is important that you base your
objections on clear issues which are related to land-use – the way land is used
now, the way it will be used if the development goes ahead, the way the
development will restrict future use of the land, or the way the land could be
used if the development does not go ahead.
5.10 Some of these will be obvious – for instance the proposed development
might spoil the view from a local beauty spot (‘amenity’ is considered a land
use issue), destroy land used for formal or informal recreation, or be damaging
to important wildlife habitats. It might increase the amount of traffic on the
roads, or it might encourage further development on neighbouring land. Finding
other Material Considerations will require some research.
The Environment Agency (EA) is the principle environmental
regulator in England and Wales, and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
(SEPA) in Scotland. The EA and SEPA authorise the following:
- Waste management, which includes land-fill;
- Discharges of substances into surface, ground or sea water;
- Water abstraction from waterways and ground water;
- Pollution of land, sea and air by certain industrial processes.
Licenses for water abstraction, consents for discharges into
water, and authorisations for emissions of pollutants can only be issued
following public consultation. Notices must be published in at least one local
paper, and twenty eight days (six weeks for discharge consents) is allowed for
the submission of comments.
Digging up treasure . . .
. . . finding information to support your case.
The Local Plan or UDP – you can buy a copy from the LPA, but they are
expensive. There will be a copy available at your town’s main library. Read it
carefully – the LPA must take into account the numbered policies and the
background text. And be sure to look at all the numbered policies – you
may well find that while one policy might apparently support the proposal,
another might be able to be used against it. For instance, there may be general
purpose policies on nature conservation, protection of trees, protection of
footpaths, and so on. Additionally, Local Plan policies are never definite: they
always read ‘There will be a presumption in favour of . . .’ or such-and-such
‘will normally be refused’. So interpretation is important – try to convince the
planners that the policies mean what you want them to mean.
Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGs). There are loads of these, but your
LPA will have the lot and with luck will let you see them on request; failing
that, try the county library, or order one from a reputable book shop, or the
HMSO bookshop in London. CPRE/YDCW have produced a very useful index to national
planning policies (see section 12) which you might wish to get hold of: write to
them for a copy.
Any other government policy documents, such as the recent rural white
paper (a statement of government policy proposals for the countryside, available
from HMSO), or even statements made by government ministers: if the Environment
Secretary has recently said on ‘Newsnight’ that hedgerows should be protected
(and it would be nice if hedges were considered important enough to be on
‘Newsnight’), then that could be a material consideration.
For background information on nature conservation and wildlife:
contact your county Wildlife Trust;
study the Wildlife Habitat Survey (sometimes referred to as a Phase 1
Habitat Survey) for your county, if there is one. Local Planning Officers and
County Planning Officers will have copies which you can look at, and there may
also be a copy in the county library.
For background information on archaeological or historical matters, contact
county archaeological groups (the local library may have a contact
address), or visit the County Records Centre (this may have a less than
clear title, eg in Kent it is known as ‘The Centre for Kentish Studies’): entry
is free, but you may need to obtain a reader’s card in order to get
5.11 When writing in with your objection, it is good to include positive
ideas for the use of the land concerned: perhaps a nature reserve, country park,
community orchard, or informal amenity area. At ‘Pure Genius’, the derelict site
in Wandsworth occupied by a low-impact community, an application was made by the
occupiers for a sustainable ‘Ecovillage’. This was intended to counter the
application by the site’s owners, Guinness, for high cost housing and a
supermarket. It’s worth noting that you do not have to own a piece of land to
apply for Planning Permission on it. It’s also worth noting that it will cost
you at least £160 to submit a Planning Application for a single dwelling – ask
your local planning department for a copy of the scale of charges.
Making a Planning Application
Planning Permission is required before the use of a piece of
land can be changed. It is not always clear what counts as a change of use. For
instance, Planning Permission is required if a cow pasture is to be used for
grazing horses. Planning permission is not needed if a pub is to be converted to
offices, but is needed if offices are to be converted to a pub. Contact the
local Planning Officers if you are not sure if Planning Permission is needed for
the change or development which you are proposing.
Planning Officers will give you all the forms which you need to
fill in, and tell you what plans you will need to provide. You may make either a
‘full’ or an ‘outline’ application. ‘Outline’ applications are generally used
for large development such as housing estates, where the developer will apply to
build ‘x’ number of a certain sort of house on a particular site. The details
are then dealt with at a later date as ‘reserved matters’ by the submission of
one or more further Planning Applications.
Once you have submitted your application, the Planning
Authority will usually determine your application within 6 weeks. Difficult,
complex or controversial applications may take longer to decide.
The Planning Authority will post notices on the site concerned,
and notify neighbours and other interested parties about the application. Any
comments must be made to the Planning Authority within 21 days of the notices
being posted. Again, this period may be lengthened at the Planning Authority’s
discretion if the application is complex or controversial.
Most applications will be decided by the Planning Committee of
the Planning Authority. You may write in support of your application, and attend
the committee, but you will not be able to speak at the meeting. You may ask
your Councillor to speak on your behalf at the meeting.
You will be notified by post of the Planning Authority’s
decision. If your application has been refused, you will be sent details of how
to appeal (if you so wish) against the decision.
5.12 Because of the land use basis of the planning system, the
importance of wilderness is (sadly) not recognised. It would probably be unwise
to say that you feel an area should be left totally alone: at least try to dress
it up to sound like an active use of the land.
5.13 If an Environmental Assessment has been prepared, ask to see it: they
are often terrible, and can provide a good basis for objections. If you think
that the assessment does not take proper account of all the environmental
impacts of the proposed development, then make sure you say so. If you can
persuade the LPA that the assessment is inadequate, then, at the very least, the
developer will have to go through the whole exercise again. English Nature has
produced a guidance leaflet on Environmental Assessment which is aimed at
developers, but which would be useful in spotting deficiencies in developers’
5.14 Planning Committees, like all local authority committees, are held in
public (except under certain circumstances, when the press and public can be
excluded from the meeting room for the discussion of particular agenda items).
Anyone may attend, but no-one but the council officers and members can take part
in debates, unless specifically asked to do so: it’s no use sticking up
your hand (or shouting), you’ll be ignored.
5.15 The Planning Committee will probably have full ‘delegated powers’, which
means that, unlike other council committees, it does not have to refer its
decisions to a meeting of the full Council.
5.16 Even if you commented on the application, you may not be notified of the
LPA’s decision – some send out letters, some don’t. Make sure you know the date
of the Planning Committee meeting so that you can phone in to check the outcome.
The minutes of the Planning Committee, together with the minutes of all the
council’s committees are placed in the local main library.
5.17 If the LPA approves an application which goes against the policies in
the Local Plan or UDP, they must advertise it as a departure from the plan, and
refer the decision to the Secretary of State for the Environment. In this
situation, you should write to the SoS with your objections; however, note that
the Secretary of State will not interfere with planning decisions unless they
are of more than local importance.
5.18 Note that Planning Permission applies to land and not to a person
or organisation. If the land is sold, the Planning Permission goes with it.
6. Planning conditions
6.1 Increasingly, Planning Permission may be granted subject to Planning
Conditionsor a Planning Agreement.
6.2 Planning Conditions (which can be appealed against by the
developer) might include keeping trees, hedges, or other features of wildlife or
landscape importance. Like many aspects of the planning system, Planning
Conditions can be positive or negative in their effects: they can be a very
useful way of protecting important features or ensuring good design, or they can
be a way for the LPA to get around objections and allow the development to go
ahead. In any case, conditions must be necessary, relevant, enforceable, precise
Example. People whose allotments were to be sold for housing objected to
the Planning Application on the grounds that there were slow-worms on the
allotments. It is illegal, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, to
deliberately kill slow-worms, and it was argued that bulldozing the site would
be bound to kill some of the animals. The LPA made it a condition of the
Planning Permission that as many as possible of the slow-worms were to be
captured and relocated before the development went ahead. In the end, this meant
that the allotments (and slow-worm habitat) were lost. (Most ecologists would
also argue that moving animals or plants to new sites is unlikely to lead to
their long-term survival.)
6.3 Planning Agreements are used by the LPA to gain ‘benefits’ for the
local area, sometimes known as Planning Gain. Agreements are entered into
voluntarily by the developer and the LPA, and may be used to provide needed
infrastructure or community benefits. Planning Gain has the reputation of being
a way for a developer to ‘buy’ Planning Permission. However, it’s not quite that
crude: Planning Gain might look like a bribe (albeit a very public one) or a
massive sweetener to the LPA and to local people, but the development concerned
must still comply with any national and local planning laws and guidelines.
Planning Gain can, in practice, turn out to be good or bad.
Example. When a change to an existing leisure centre was approved, it was
subject to an agreement which provided a badly needed strip of land for a cycle
path alongside the site.
Example. A new superstore development meant extra traffic would be using
an existing junction, so a Planning Agreement was used to provide all the
modifications which it was thought were needed. There is now a huge and
dangerous roundabout outside the store.
6.4 A Planning Agreement, once entered into, is binding: there is no appeal,
and a developer who breaches the agreement could be taken to court by the LPA
under civil law. Like the Planning Permission itself, the agreement passes on to
‘successors in title’, that is, anyone who buys the land in future. There could
be potential for agreements to be used to establish low-impact communities
outside normal residential areas – for example, the agreement might specify the
type and amount of housing to be constructed, so that the application could not
be used to open the door to general residential development.
6.5 The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has published a report
calling for the better use of Planning Conditions to protect wildlife and wild
habitats. ‘Natural Conditions’ is available from them for £9.
A nasty thought . . .
You are fighting a development proposal which will destroy an
area of countryside which is very important to you (and to the rest of the
community), but you are fairly sure that the development will be approved.
Should you refuse absolutely to accept the proposed
development, and fight the application to the bitter end – even though you may
lose everything you are fighting for?
Or should you accept that the application will succeed, and
fight for mitigation – such as habitat creation nearby – through Planning
Conditions or Planning Agreements, even though this means giving up the battle
for the land you love?
This is not, I’m afraid to say, an uncommon scenario, and is
one that causes bitter arguments within and between environmental
7. Structure Plans, Local Plans and UDPs
7.1 New Government guidelines mean that all planning decisions should now be
made in accordance with the Local Plan or UDP, unless there are over-riding
reasons of ‘national or regional importance’. So, if you want to influence land
use and development in your area, you must ensure that your views are
taken into account when the plans are drawn up. Not only can you suggest
policies to prevent developments that you don’t want to see, but you can suggest
the kind of positive developments which you do want to see – more social
housing, more allotments, cycleways, better countryside protection,
7.2 LPAs are now obliged to consider the environmental effects of their
plans, and to encourage ‘sustainable development’. PPG12 makes it clear that
issues such as global warming and use of non-renewable resources are to be
reflected in policies – for instance, new developments should be located and
designed to minimise car journeys. This is an area in which many LPAs have
little knowledge or experience, and environmental groups or individual
environmentalists will probably be able to increase the pressure for improved
sustainability and low-impact living.
Regional Planning Authorities (County Councils and Unitary
Authorities) are now bound by the Road Traffic Reduction Act to draw up plans
for reducing traffic levels. Structure Plans and UDPs should therefore include
measures to reduce the need to travel.
7.3 Local Plans and UDPs have a five or ten year life, but as they take a
long time to put together, the process of revising a plan may start just a few
years after it first comes into effect. So even if your area already has a Local
Plan, there’s a good chance that the next one will be in preparation and that
there will be something for you to do.
7.4 The plans all have long periods of formal consultation, and there are a
number of opportunities to make your opinions known. However, it is up to the
LPA how much input local people actually have. In some areas they start by
asking local people what they think are the important planning issues in the
area; in others, the LPA will produce topic papers stating what they
think are the important issues, and asking for comments. The latter is much less
flexible, and, unless you are prepared to put in a lot of work, you will find
that the plan is led much more by the opinion of Planning Officers and Elected
7.5 The next stage is the drawing up of a draft Local Plan/UDP which is then
made available for comment. If you can’t afford a copy (and they may cost £20
each), then there will be one in the local library. The draft plan is revised in
the light of the comments and placed ‘on deposit’ for six weeks, during which
more comments and objections are invited. These comments, together with the
LPA’s observations on them, are placed on deposit for a further period, and form
the basis for the Local Plan Inquiry. More comments can be submitted during this
second deposit period.
7.6 It is important to get your views into the system at the earliest
possible stage, as once policies are drafted, there are unlikely to be any major
changes. As it is up to the LPA whether it advertises the plan at the very
earliest stages, it is a good idea to establish a good relationship with local
councillors or local Planning Officers, and to keep in touch with what is going
7.7 It is also important to follow the process through. Your written
submissions at the deposit stage are vital and will be seen by the Inspector at
the inquiry. You must be sure to give your support to those policies which you
agree with, and study the objections which others have sent in (ask to see
them): developers will object to protective policies covering land which they
want to build on, and you can comment on their objections.
8.1 There are three kinds of inquiry which you might find yourself involved
in: Planning Inquiries, Public Local Inquiries (PLIs), and Examinations in Public
(EIPs). All are held in the presence of an Inspector from the Department of
the Environment, who makes the final decisions on the issues involved: it may
take weeks or even months for decisions to be published. All inquiries are public,
and anyone is allowed in to watch and listen to proceedings.
8.2. Planning Inquiries
8.2.1 If a developer appeals against the refusal of a Planning Application,
or in the exceptional circumstances that the Secretary of State calls in an
application, then a Planning Inquiry will be held. This can take one of three
forms – Written Representation, where the Inspector will base their decision
on written submissions only; an Informal Hearing, which takes the form
of a round table discussion; or a formal Public Inquiry. Of these, only
the Public Inquiry is adversarial: that is to say, the various sides are able
to employ advocates to guide the presentation of their cases and to cross-examine
8.2.2 If you originally objected to the Planning Application, you will be informed
if an Inquiry is called; you will have the right to appear and to present your
case if you wish. However, a Public Inquiry can be a daunting experience: big
developers can afford to employ experienced barristers (even QCs!) to try and
pull your case to pieces.
If you are going to give evidence to an Inquiry, make sure you
understand your case, and know how you will present it. If you are giving evidence
at a Planning Inquiry, you may find yourself being cross-examined by a barrister,
so you will need to fully understand the basis of your case and to keep
a cool head. A good way to prepare is to go through a mock cross-examination,
and allow someone to try and pull your arguments to pieces: this will help to
identify the weaknesses in your case.
8.2.3 So it is a very good idea to get together with all the other objectors
(in nearly every case, this will include the LPA, who will have experience of
other inquiries) to discuss your tactics and approach. You do not have to employ
an advocate, but you will find it helpful unless you are confident about your
ability to cross-examine other witnesses; the advocate does not need to be a
barrister. If you do use an advocate, then it is best to arrange to share them
with other objectors: this not only ensures a coherent case, but splits the
cost – remember, there is no financial assistance for objectors, and you will
have to raise all the money you need to fight your case.
8.2.4 A final important point: Public Inquiries are not courts of law,
no matter how the advocates behave. Inspectors are concerned that all relevant
points are brought out and are not necessarily impressed by a barrister’s flashy
wordplay. They will make allowances for inexperience, and you should ask them
to explain or clarify anything which you do not understand.
8.3. Public Local Inquiries (PLIs)
8.3.1 These Inquiries are held at the final stage of the preparation of a Local
Plan. They are adversarial, and objectors may employ advocates.
8.3.2 All objectors have the right to appear at the PLI. However, Inspectors
are not so keen to listen to lots of witnesses giving support for policies.
So, if you do wish to give your support to some aspects of the Local Plan, be
sure to make clear, written comments during the plan’s deposit stage.
8.3.3 Because PLIs tend to be long and complex, a Programme Officer is appointed
to provide administrative support, keep a library of documents, and arrange
the programme (ie who appears when) for the Inquiry. Stay in touch with them
to keep tabs on what is going on.
8.3.4 Even if you are not appearing, your attendance at the Inquiry may be
useful. If a crowd of you is attending to show support for a particular objector
or group of objectors, then let their advocate know, so that your interest can
be pointed out to the Inspector.
8.4. Examinations in Public (EIPs)
8.4.1 The EIP is the final stage of the preparation of a Structure Plan. They
are round-table discussions, and are not adversarial. You can only appear if
you are invited to do so, and even then you will not get long to speak, so your
original written submission is very important.
Legal alternatives . . .
A good environmental lawyer or barrister may prove a very
valuable asset in fighting a case. For instance, ELMS (the Environmental Legal
and Mediation Service), in preparing a case against a development in Newcastle,
discovered the doctrine of Legitimate Expectations, which is part of
Administrative Law. The doctrine states that a person or a group may have a
legitimate expectation of being treated in a certain way by an administrative
authority, even if they have no particular legal right to be treated in this
way. Such expectation may arise from a representation (either real or implied)
made by a Local Authority, or from consistent past practice. ELMS has taken this
to imply that where an authority has maintained an area of public open space for
many years, the public has a legitimate expectation that the area will remain as
public open space and that the Local Authority will not allow it to be built on.
In law, the Local Authority cannot act to defeat a legitimate expectation, and,
if it proposes to act so as to defeat a legitimate expectation, it must allow
all those affected to make representations on the matter. It is worth noting
that ELMS’s assumptions have yet to be tested in the courts.
Judicial reviews are often in the news, and campaign groups
often seek judicial reviews of planning decisions. Judicial review can only be
sought where there are good grounds to believe that a planning authority or an
Inspector has not properly carried out their full legal duty in coming to a
decision on a planning matter. It is then up a to a judge to decide whether or
not the law has been correctly interpreted and followed. Do not even
think about seeking a judicial review without consulting a
9. Outside the System
9.1 A large number of developments manage to avoid planning control completely.
The General Development Order (GDO) gives automatic permission to a whole
range of developments, from small house extensions to certain developments by
Local Authorities. Farming and forestry are both exempt, and yet they create
the most profound changes in our landscape – changes that may turn out to be
9.2 The GDO even influences the shape of village communities. For example,
converting a pub to offices does not require Planning Permission; converting
offices to a pub does.
9.3 The military is exempt from any planning control – they have Crown Immunity
– for any development which is considered to be in the national defence interest.
They do have to consult with the LPA, but they can ignore any advice given.
9.4 Permitted Development Rights are also held by the so-called ‘statutory
undertakers’ – the suppliers of gas, electricity, telecommunications, water,
and sewage services. They can carry out any work directly related to providing
the services concerned, despite the fact that they are now all profit-making
industries. This includes the laying of cable TV and the erection of aerials
for mobile phone systems, which are both outside planning control.
9.5 The ultimate way out of the system is reserved for major development schemes
which the government wishes to promote. In these cases, permission may be granted
by passing an Act of Parliament. The channel tunnel is the result of
an Act of Parliament, and its associated rail-link will be too. Interestingly,
highways interests have petitioned for extra measures to be included within
the rail-link bill – these include the widening of the M2 motorway, and new
dual carriageway highways – creating a ‘hybrid’ bill which would grant permission
for a number of essentially unrelated developments. In a case like this, write
to your MP, the LPA and the County Council – local authorities do have an input
into parliamentary business.
10. Fighting an Application – a case study
10.1 The Slad Valley is a corridor of open, green space which reaches deep
into the town of Stroud from the surrounding countryside. The valley is lined
by pasture land and is often walked by local people; it is protected in the
district’s Local Plan as an area of special landscape merit.
10.2 An application to build ninety houses on about 10 acres of the open land
in the valley was made by a local building firm in early 1995. This was turned
down by the LPA at a meeting in June of that year, because, they said, the development
would be harmful to the open landscape of the area, was not compatible with
the character of the built and natural environment, and would set a precedent
for further building in the valley.
10.3 In August, the developer lodged an appeal against the decision. This was
largely based on challenging the housing allocation in the Local Plan, which
was at that time only in draft form.
10.4 The Slad Valley Action Group (SVAG) was set up as a community-based group
to fight the appeal, following a public meeting called by the LPA, which opposed
the development. The group kept close links with the LPA during the campaign,
while remaining a separate and self-running group.
10.5 SVAG was only made up of a small number of local residents, plus one local
councillor, but this did not stop them from running a very strong campaign.
They realised that they needed to do two things: to raise public interest and
encourage more people to object to the scheme; and to get together enough money
to run the campaign and pay an advocate to represent them at the appeal.
10.6 What they did:
· Produce a leaflet about the campaign, and asking
for help and donations, and for people to write objecting to the application
– it’s worth remembering that an Inspector sees every letter sent in, and
a pile of a hundred letters is more impressive than a petition with a hundred
· Drew up a giant-sized letter opposing the development,
which they took around the town and got people to sign: they got over a
· Sent letters and press releases to the local
press – local papers are always looking for good stories to fill space;
· Held a benefit concert;
· Organised a photographic exhibition;
· Applied for a grant from the Rural Action scheme
to pay for a landscape appraisal and public consultation which they could
use in evidence to the Inquiry: they got £1500;
· Commissioned the County Council to carry out
a traffic survey;
· Held workshops for people speaking at the Public
Inquiry, to improve presentation and co-ordinate what was to be said.
10.7 It was not all plain sailing, and they learnt a number of important points:
· Not everybody gets involved with a community
group for the same reason. It is important that the group has a good facilitator/chair
who can get the best out of each member;
· You will need people with a range of skills,
and it helps to assign a different role to each person; SVAG found that
public relations skills were essential;
· It is important to involve a cross-section of
the community, so that your campaign is representative of local feelings.
A developer may challenge your objections by claiming that your group is
not representative: you can counter this by making sure that a large number
of people (maybe as many as 100-200) see your written proof of evidence,
and sign a statement to say that they support it;
· Don’t be a control freak! If other groups are
running events and campaigns alongside you, then be aware of it and let
it happen. Remember that your campaign can be as much about community development
as about anything else;
· If you employ an advocate or a planning advisor,
bring them in as early as possible, so that they can get to know the group,
and so that you can be sure that they can work effectively with a community
· Get in touch with other local environmental
organisations. SVAG were helped by the local Ramblers’ Association, who
checked to see how the development would affect the view from nearby footpaths.
10.8 So strong was the SVAG campaign that the developers withdrew their application
before the Inquiry had started.
11. Problems with the Planning System
11.1 The Town and Country Planning System is a powerful tool, which can be,
and often is, used to benefit communities and the environment. In particular,
the new presumption in favour of Local Plan policies provides opportunities
for more enlightened local authorities to encourage sensitive development and
discourage predatory development, and to involve local people very closely in
how this is done.
11.2 Conversely, the weaknesses in the current system are substantial. The
Government’s view is that the Planning System should generally not stifle or
inhibit change and development, and this is reflected in planning legislation
and guidelines. There is a clear imbalance between the rights and freedoms of
individuals or commercial organisations and the rights and freedoms of the community:
in case of doubt, it’s the individual or commercial interest that gets the nod,
and the community has to put up with it.
11.3 This is absolutely clear in the Planning System’s in-built presumption
in favour of development. A developer does not have to show that a development
is necessary or useful or appropriate. Instead, it is down to the Local Planning
Authority to provide material reasons why the development should not go ahead.
If the authority cannot do this, then the development can proceed. If the development
is turned down, the developer can appeal against the decision, and their appeal
must be heard. Where a development is given permission, no right of appeal
exists for objectors.
11.4 The balance could be shifted by turning around this basic presumption,
so that any development would automatically be refused unless it could be shown
to have a worth which clearly out-weighed any damage it might cause. This is
what is often referred to as the Precautionary Principle. Its adoption
would not stop development from happening, but would prevent change that did
not carry real community benefits. In addition, extending the right of appeal
to objectors as well as developers, and providing some financial assistance
to objectors, would make for a much more even-handed system than currently exists.
11.5 There is a certain emphasis on Zoning in our planning system –
providing separate areas for housing, industry, countryside, and so on. This
does provide protection for important countryside areas, and prevent polluting
industries being located next to people’s homes. However, it makes for a somewhat
rigid system where the towns are compact and crowded while the countryside is
virtually uninhabited (the metropolitan Greenbelts are the ultimate example
of this), and where people have to travel long distances to shops or to the
places where they work.
11.6 Zoning could be relaxed if LPAs imposed tighter Planning Conditions or
used Planning Agreements to control the types of industrial, retail or housing
developments which are permitted, or if the overall sustainability of a development
could be used as a Material Consideration (currently, things like the internal
design of buildings are not considered land-use issues). This would make for
a more flexible system, and more intimate, self-contained, and ultimately more
11.7 Sitting alongside Zoning is the problem of areas being ‘opened up’ by
a development. In the Slad Valley case (see above), the objectors argued that
the new housing would ‘open up’ the rest of the valley for further development.
It is indeed often the case that a block of open space will be regarded as sacrosanct
until part of it is developed; then it’s considered that the whole block has
been spoiled, and might as well be built on. New roads are regularly a cause
of the opening up of previously undeveloped land, spawning new business parks
and superstores; the gap between the town boundary and a new bypass is generally
quickly filled in with new houses.
Problems with Northern Ireland
Not only does DoE NI not follow the open and clearly accountable
plan-led system of the rest of Britain, and not make its planning guidance documents
available to the public, but it is also under no statutory obligation to take
sustainability into account when making planning decisions. A review of planning
procedures in Northern Ireland is rumoured to be underway; there is a clear
case to make for bringing them into line with the rest of the UK.
11.8 The problems of Zoning and of ‘opening up’ illustrate planning’s most
intractable problem: in the end, it is under the control of central government.
The LPA may wish to impose tight planning conditions upon a developer, but the
developer can appeal against them – in which case, it is a DoE Inspector who
makes the final decision. Likewise, it is a DoE Inspector who will say ultimately
whether a piece of land has been ‘opened up’ by a previous development: hence
you will hear planners discussing whether an area of open space is ‘defensible’
– that is, can they prevent it being built on, even if they want to?
11.9 To really make a change, there needs to be increased devolution of power
away from central government to local government. Local authorities in turn
need to put a lot more effort into informing and involving the communities they
serve. The Local Agenda 21 projects which local authorities are undertaking
go at least some way towards this, and it is likely that we will see significant
changes in decision-making as communities learn how to effectively use their
power and put their views across, and local authorities learn how to listen
12. Sources of advice
Ask your local Planning Officers first – even if you find that the
system is against you, they may be able to give some very useful advice. It will
always help to keep on good terms with them, anyway – it’s amazing how much more
co-operative local government officers become if you’re nice to them.
Talk to your local councillor(s) and/or county councillor(s) –
they are your elected representatives, and ought to know what’s going
Your LPA may have leaflets which provide info on Planning
Applications, Local Plans, and so on. The DoE and Welsh Office produce a range
of leaflets on different aspects of the planning system, so it may be worth
looking them up in your local phone book.
Copies of Acts of Parliament (including the various Town and Country
Planning Acts) and Planning Policy Guidance Notes are available from HMSO
Bookshop, 49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6HB Tel 0171 873 0011. Your local
bookshop should also be able to order them for you, and central libraries should
In addition, the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) have
produced a Campaigners’ Guide to Local Plans, which is very detailed at
107 pages and costs £10. Together with the Campaign for the Protection of Rural
Wales (CPRW)/Ymgyrch Diogelu Cymru Wledig (YDCW), they have also produced an
Index of Planning Policy Guidance Notes which tells you exactly where to
go for the national planning policy on almost any subject; it costs £3. Also
available from CPRE, the Campaigners’ Guide to Minerals – how to
influence planning decisions on mineral extraction and campaign to reduce the
impact of quarrying: cost £10. A very useful checklist, Responding to
Planning Applications, is available free from CPRE (send an SAE) and should
also be available on their website. CPRE, Warwick House, 25 Buckingham Palace
Road, London SW1W 0PP Tel 0171 976 6433. CPRW/YDCW, Ty Gwyn, 31 High Street,
Welshpool, Powys SY21 7JP Tel 01938 552525. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org website
English Nature, the government’s conservation advisors, can provide guidance
on wildlife law and other conservation issues, although they notoriously
conservative (at least as a body), being under constant threat of budget cuts.
Publications include a guide to the preparation of Environmental
Assessments, available from the Enquiry Service at English Nature,
Peterborough PE1 1UA, Tel. 01733 340345. You can also phone them to find your
The RSPB has a report, Natural Conditions, on the use of Planning
Conditions for wildlife protection. Cost £9 from RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy,
Bedfordshire SG19 2DL.
The Royal Town Planning Institute has a ‘Planning Aid’ service which
aims to provide free advice to individuals or groups who cannot afford to employ
a professional consultant. The service is run by volunteers, and is regionally
based: to find your nearest contact, write to The Administrative Officer, RTPI
Services Ltd, 26 Portland Place, London W1N 4BE or phone the RTPI on 0171 636
The Environmental Legal and Mediation Service (ELMS) is a registered
charity which can provide free legal advice and representation to local groups
in cases concerned with the preservation of the natural or built environment.
They are also developing the use of mediation in planning disputes, and can
provide speakers on planning and environmental law and procedure. Contact ELMS,
Temple Chambers, 3-7 Temple Avenue, London EC4Y 0DB Tel 0171 583 8844 Fax 0181
To find a professional consultant, contact your local planning
department or Citizens’ Advice Bureau and ask for a list of Chartered Town
Other useful publications
Basic Law for Road Protesters, by Dr Peter Gray, contains information on
fighting road proposals, and goes in detail through the legislation that will
affect you if taking direct action. Available on Peter’s website at
Understanding the Development Jigsaw, by Wendy Le-Las, looks at the whole
Planning process, and shows how to make a winning case against unwanted
development. Cost £25.95 from Vine House Distribution, Waldenbury, North Common,
Chailey, East Sussex BN8 4DR Tel 01825 723398 (cheques payable to ‘Vine House
The Land is Ours has produced a number of publications on planning
· Charter for the Countryside – £1
· Pure Genius Planning Application for Ecovillage -£2
- Permaculture – a new approach to rural planning – £9
Available from The Land is Ours, Box E, 111 Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RQ