Last week I attended a planning committee meeting where my client’s application for a barn conversion in North East Derbyshire was recommended for refusal. The application had been ‘called-in’ by a local councillor who did not share the officer’s concerns about the proposal.
The principle of conversion to residential was accepted but the officer was not happy with the proposed extension and some new first floor windows. I made my 3-minute speech and waited on tenterhooks to hear what the councillors thought. It quickly became clear that councillors saw things differently to the officer and that they supported the application. Where officers saw a proposal that did not comply with the strict wording set out in a rural conversions policy, members were more swayed by other factors including the removal of an ugly outbuilding, its location adjacent to another barn which has also been extended and the applicant’s continued efforts to diversify the farm to make it sustainable in the long term. In short, they took a more pragmatic, rounded view and clearly didn’t see any public interest in refusing the application.
This served as a timely reminder that planning committees are unpredictable beasts, that they often see things very differently to their officers and that ‘real life’ considerations often factor heavily in their decisions. On this occasion it worked in our favour, on other occasions it has worked against us.
Whilst we may not always agree with committee decisions, they play a pivotal role in the planning system across the country. They are an important aspect of local democracy and provide councillors with a mechanism to reflect the will of the people, should they see fit. It is often frustrating when councilors display limited knowledge of the planning system or don’t appear to fully understand a proposal but no-one has come up with a better system that I am aware of.
Richard Pigott is a Chartered Town Planner and Director at Planning & Design Practice
© 2017 Planning and Design Practice Ltd. All rights reserved.
Website by Frogspark