- An increase in population will place a strain on local services;
- A decline in trust between residents, developers and local authorities;
- The local identity may be threatened by outsiders;
- New developments may change the character or identity of the place they call home;
- Planning debates could be hijacked for alternative agendas;
- A sense of powerlessness arising from a lack of genuine engagement; and
- The fear of noise and safety impacts from construction
All of that is sound and reasonable, but, to me, all of those reasons sound pre-meditated in that they could be raised even before somebody has gone online to view a proposal and considered it's compliance or otherwise with a development plan. A good, well-consulted upon proposal that is in accordance with a good, well-consulted upon development plan might minimise objections, but what strikes me about those objections is that they reflect an attitude towards new development that would mean objection to any scheme on any site.
I was at a meeting of land and planning managers this week and we were discussing the most common objections to planning applications for new housing. Whilst there are always concerns about highways ('Have you seen what that junction is like at 8:30 every morning?!') and ecology and other genuine planning matters, there are also the other hardy perennials like a negative impact on house prices and the loss of a view. These are not planning matters, but they are allowed to come up time and time and time again...
Come planning committee though what takes greater precedence? The planning officer's reasoned and balanced consideration of the planning balance, or the pitchfork-wielding, placard-waving, petition-signing local residents? Perhaps that depends upon when the application is being considered in the local election cycle, which in those third/third/third authorities will be an influence in three years out of four.
Herein is the relationship between the public, their elected representatives and the planning system represented by officers, and the balance of power between the three. For example. Why are applications on allocated sites even reported to a committee at all? Why are reserved matters submissions reported to a committee? The principle of development has been established and the committee should be considering only technical matters. When such applications do go to committee, why are the thresholds for the number of objections required so low? Why should one objection mean that an application cannot be determined under delegated powers? Even at committee, why are non-planning objections even reported at all? Here is a big one. If a Committee does vote against an officer's reasoned and balanced consideration why can that commitee not be personally liable for an appeal costs award when an inspector finds that the reasons for reasons are not justified.
Two things flow from this. Firstly, objectors object because they can, and they know, especially in bulk (the single agitator circulating a standard letter or a petition, for example, that the objections will be taken into account. That is fine and that is their democratic right. I would never try and stop somebody from objecting, but do objections have to be given so much weight in LPA standing orders? Secondly, councillors take objections into account because their electoral chances depend upon it. That is fine too and they would no doubt argue that they are 'reflecting the views of the community'. Fundamentally that requires a tipping point to be reached whereby the loudest and most influential voices in the debate are not the objectors but the supporters. The planning system can do something in the former regard, but it can do little about the latter.
Putting aside all cynical, legal and philosophical thoughts, it seems to me the planning system would benefit from fewer objectors, not wealthier objectors.