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


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. Introduction


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



National Parks


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

district council.


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




Green Belts








Industrial and Commercial Development and Small Firms




Simplified Planning Zones




Town Centres and Retail Developments




The Countryside – Environmental Quality and Economic and Social









Nature Conservation




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




Coastal Planning








Renewable Energy




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

concerned.”PPG 1

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

and reasonable.


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. Inquiries




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.


Be prepared!


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 Review


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

thousand signatures;

· 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

sustainable, communities.

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

and respond.




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

have copies.

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 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

regional office.

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

355 9896.

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


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