Planning guide

Lambeth planning applications and how to deal with them
Posted 5 December 2010
A Vauxhall Society Guide
Public consultation on planning applications is an important opportunity for everyone affected by or concerned about a proposed development to influence the Council’s decision to approve or refuse permission. However, if you want to have some influence, it is important that you observe the rules closely because consultation procedures and constraints are precise and strict.

‘The balance of power between big developers and local citizens is not equal’
A Vauxhall Society GuidePublic consultation on planning applications is an important opportunity for everyone affected by or concerned about a proposed development to influence the Council’s decision to approve or refuse permission. However, if you want to have some influence, it is important that you observe the rules closely because consultation procedures and constraints are precise and strict.Lambeth Borough Council routinely informs The Vauxhall Society of new applications, and where an application is clearly of major public importance the Society will respond to the consultation. In most cases, however, the Society relies on its members and other interested parties to alert it to the issues at stake.So, if you as an individual are directly concerned about the impact on yourself or your neighbours of a proposed development, or if you think there is a wider or general public interest in the proposals, you should

  1. alert The Vauxhall Society at vauxhallcs@gmail.com
  2. discuss it with possibly interested neighbours,
  3. contact your local residents’ or tenants’ association or other relevant local groups (4) submit your own views, whether for or against, to Lambeth Planning (see below, Making your submission).

The timetable
When Lambeth Planning receives an application, its first task is to ‘validate’ it. That means checking that the application contains all relevant information and is appropriate for consideration. Lambeth Planning then works to a target of reaching a decision within eight weeks for smaller applications and 13 weeks for larger developments. The application is allocated to a Case Officer, who starts the public consultation, for which at least (but sometimes only) 21 days are allowed.

The application is advertised by one or more of the following methods:

  • letters to neighbours
  • a site notice (on the property or close by)
  • South London Press small ads public notices
  • notices in libraries or other public buildings

Anyone may submit comments on the application.

The full application, with drawings and illustrations, can be examined in

  • the main planning office (Phoenix House, 10 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall Cross);
  • in the local branch library
    – the Durning for Prince’s ward
    – the Minet for Vassall ward
    – the South Lambeth for Oval and Stockwell wards
    – Waterloo for Bishop’s ward)
  • online at www.lambeth.gov.uk/planning – although it is not always easy to find and access the key documents.

Making your submission
Your submissions on applications can be made

  • on a form issued with notices to neighbours and other interested parties
  • or by e-mail to the Planning Department at lambethplanning@lambeth.gov.uk or, even better, directly to the Case Officer (see next paragraph)
  • or by letter to Lambeth Planning Department, Phoenix House, 10 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2LL.

On-line communication is helpful to the Council’s officers and encouraged.

It is often useful to make contact with the Case Officer, for example on procedural issues, clarifications and the deadline for submission of comments etc. Case Officers are usually very helpful. The Town Planning Advice Centre (tel 020 7926 1180) will give you the name, telephone number and e-mail address of the Case Officer. You will need the exact address of the development site and, if possible, the case reference number quoted on consultation notices. You can then submit your comments directly to the Case Officer.Pre-application consultation: a word of caution
The Council is statutorily obliged to consult the public on all planning applications, within the timetable explained above. The Council is also directed by the Government to encourage major developers to consult the local community on their plans before submitting their applications. Large developers will often contact local organisations (residents’ and amenity groups etc) in order to present and explain their plans.These pre-application informal consultations can be useful, but they should be treated with caution. The balance of power between big developers and local citizens is not equal, and developers may well see such pre-application consultations as a ‘softening-up’ process aiming to persuade people to support projects without a full understanding of their impact on the local community and environment. It can be very useful to look at proposals at this early stage. It is best not to commit oneself to a ‘for’ or ‘against’ stance until the full application can be examined. Who decides?
Planning officers under powers delegated by the Council decide most applications. The Council’s Town Planning Applications Committee decides a few applications. They are referred to the committee

a. because of the size of the project and its potential contentiousness or
b. because the planning officers consider the case needs a democratic decision or
c. because a councillor (any councillor) considers the case too important to be decided by planning officers alone.

If you are concerned about an application, it is sensible therefore to contact your ward councillors and if possible win their support for your views. In some cases you may wish to ask a councillor to get the application referred to the committee.

If the application is to be decided by the committee, the meeting will be open to the public and one or two members of the public will be allowed to speak. (Notice of a wish to speak should be given to the chair or to the committee secretary before the meeting starts.) The planning officers’ recommendation to the committee to permit or refuse will be included in the printed agenda report. If the decision is made by the planning officers under delegated powers, the Case Officer’s report will not be published, but it can be obtained from the Case Officer and will explain the justification for the decision.

The developer has a right of appeal (to the Secretary of State) against a refusal of planning permission, and this will lead to a public or informal inquiry conducted by a Government planning inspector. There is no right of appeal by an objector against a permission granted by the Council.

How planning decisions are made
There are strict rules, set out in planning legislation, regulations and guidance provided by Government, determining whether a proposed development is permitted or refused. National, regional and local policies all have to be taken into account. The rules are especially strict for ‘listed’ buildings and for property in Conservation Areas. In determining any planning application Planning officers can take into account only ‘relevant material planning considerations’.

Special planning permission must be sought for any change (demolition, addition or external or internal alteration, including outbuildings and trees) on any ‘listed’ building land. The aim is to preserve the historic and architectural character of the property. Special permission must also be obtained in a designated Conservation Area for any change that would affect the external appearance of the property. Any permitted change must ‘preserve or enhance’ the character or appearance of the property in its environmental context. There are 60 CAs in Lambeth, almost a third of them in The Vauxhall Society area.

For all applications there is a lengthy list of rules and constraints that must be applied by the planning officer or committee before permission is granted or refused. These cover the design and external appearance (height and bulk in relation to neighbouring properties) and the impact of any change on neighbours (loss of sunlight or daylight, loss of privacy, overlooking, noise, smells and other nuisances, and boundary walls and fences). Also possibly flood zones and other hazards, transport networks, archaeological priorities and the safeguarding of local shopping and business centres.

Planning officers and committees may apply discretion and judgment in reaching their conclusions, but the scope for this has strict limits. The grounds and justifications for their recommendations and decisions are always set out in their reports and decision statements. These often include conditions attached to a permission (e.g. on the need for individual approval of details of building materials, timescale, operating hours of businesses, parking, deliveries and transport plans). Objectors should consider pressing for such conditions where the grounds for refusing the application are otherwise not strong. Chris Cossey

For more planning guidance www.lambeth.gov.uk/planning