Comment: ‘Planning odds stacked against us’

Comment by Observer

Townspeople in Uckfield have every right to be angry about the planning process and you have to say that when push comes to shove, it really does seem as if the odds are stacked against the people.

The plan for a Morrisons Local on part of the car park at the Highlands Inn, Ridgewood, illustrates key issues: planning law clearly favours the applicant and that planning may appear “local” but is in truth centrally controlled.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Wealden District Council, to all intents and purposes, is the planning authority for Uckfield. It is an elected authority and has a planning committee, made up of elected councillors, to determine some of the applications.

The committee is advised by a team professional planning officers who make recommendations, based on the facts of the application and their understanding of planning law.

It used to be the case that most planning applications were determined by the committee in meetings open to the public. That is no longer the case.

More and more decisions have been delegated to officers (across the country) leaving committee members to focus on bigger matters.

This was not the case with Morrisons. The plan was discussed by Wealden planning committee north and officers recommended approval of the plan. But elected councillors said no, reflecting public concerns in Uckfield.

Now here’s the rub.

If planning permission is given, objectors have no right of appeal.

If permission is refused, the applicant can appeal. That’s the law but hardly a level playing field.

When an application is refused, the appeal goes to the Planning Inspectorate; an arm of central government.

It used to be the case that all appeals were heard in public. Not now.

The Planning Inspectorate has said the Morrisons Local appeal will be by way of written representations. So, objectors in Uckfield are now unable to “have their day in court”.

See story here

It is also amazing to discover that the Planning Inspectorate has already ruled (without any representations) that the development is “unlikely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of factors such as its nature, size or location” or that traffic will be a significant issue..

So anyone wishing to demonstrate the store will ruin the open aspect of Union Corner has been ruled out of the argument as have those concerned about increased traffic.

Wealden District Council “backed down” on two of its original arguments for refusal: one about retail use in an out-of-town location and the other about highway safety and parking. See story here

You can see why people talk about fighting a losing a battle when it comes to planning.

There will be many who feel the same about the proposals for 1,000 homes at Ridgewood Farm although, to be fair, many objections surfaced far too late in the process.

I hope the Neighbourhood Plan that is being formulated will tackle some of these development issues head on. It needs to be a proper plan, ruling potential land uses either in or out.

After all, fine words butter no parsnips.

See also:

Planning application in for 1,000 homes

Ridgewood Post Office refurbishment

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