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Thursday, 30 October 2014

101 (nearly) reasons why Ealing Council needs to totally revamp its planning service

Over many years residents and residents' associations have been outraged by the planning decisions made by Ealing Council.

People have been annoyed about the process people have had to follow and how they have been treated when trying to make their voices heard. It was agreed to set up a committee which would look at this and last night I vice-chaired the meeting which listened to the views of residents from Ealing.

We intentionally did not invite any planning officers so that people could raise their views in the most candid way possible.

Only two comments were made that were positive (relating to the fact that Ealing holds site visits so that the planning committee Councillors can better see the result of a planning proposal)!

Clearly with about hundred comments Ealing Council will need to look at these comments at the Scrutiny meeting that takes place at 7.00 pm on Thursday 11 December 2014 in Committee Room 3, Ealing Town Hall. This will be a great chance for us to grill the officers and get them to commit to making changes that put residents first.
One side of my notes during the meeting!

Please post comments and experiences you might have about this matter on this blog and I will be able to raise these at the meeting in December.

The main areas which residents in the meeting had concerns were:
  • Poor or a lack of communication
  • Problems with the Planning website
  • Planning Committee meetings
  • Issues regarding Planning officers
  • Issues regarding Councillors
Detailed comments made by residents in the meeting are listed below (some comments were made by more than one person)...

Poor or a lack of communication >>>
  • Distribution of letters to inform residents of a local planning application goes to the wrong people, especially when a planning application relates to the corner building, and misses out people, is this intentional? x2.
  • There needs to be better information from Ealing Council about the planning committee.
  • Needs to be an enhanced communication from Ealing Council about site visits.
  • The Council should be more proactive with advanced notification of planning applications.
  • Council needs to ensure that when a group who monitors the effect of a large area like the surrounds of the Brent river that it consults groups properly rather than the odd planning application. The council has a database do why does it not use it?
  • Why did the Council not consult users when they are going through the process of changing the new planning website software?
  • Why has there not been a meeting of the Planning Services User Group which could help discuss issues that residents have?
  • Almost impossible to ring planning officers.
  • When you leave messages to planning staff they hardly every call you back.
  • Statutory consultees should be listened to. Often they are not.

Problems with the Planning website >>>
  • Additional docs uploaded, should have the upload date so new documents can be easily determined. Other Councils do that x3
  • If you search for applications on a large street then you get lots of planning applications but you cannot see where you are (need to know you are on page 3 of 20).
  • When you give views you do not always get an aknowledgement so you do not know if your view have gone into the system.
  • Why has the Council removed from the website all the documents from 2014 to 2010? This is a useful set of documents for officers and residents in research about proposed developments.
  • Lots of documents missing from the website.
  • Website documents are named in a very unfriendly way so it is not easy to know what the document is.
  • Lots of files are duplicated on the website.
  • Not easy to search for planning applications.
Councillor Andrew Steed cutting down notices the
Council should have taken down
Planning Committee meetings >>>
  • The planning committee appears too commonly not to have the correct facts to make a proper decision.
  • Documents for the Councillors are too big for them to properly read and make an informed decision at the planning meetings.
  • The planing briefing notes often arrive late in the day (once 5.34pm) and so the planning committee cannot be expected to make an informed judgement.
  • 3 minutes is too short to make comments on an application especially if it is a large application
  • Need more speakers from each borough if an application is on the border of Ealing and either Hounslow or Hammersmith.
  • Meant to be 21 days to make representation in the consultation process - but not for revised plans. Why? Biased against residents.
  • Should be 21 days less two days post for comments. Often it is less than this especially if it is a Summer period or over Christmas.
  • There is not enough time for councillors to read the background to an application.
  • The planning report does not often give much weight to the arguments put forward by objectors.
  • Petitions are treated as a single objection when this makes no sense, as 1000 signatures clearly is 1000 people against an application, not 1 person.

Issues regarding Planning officers >>>
  • Pre-application advice was wrong and when appeared in the planning papers it gives the planning committee the wrong impression and leads to wrong decisions.
  • High turnover of planning officers x3.
  • Are there exit interviews for planning officers to get their views on the problems with the planning process in Ealing?
  • What happens to the data on planning officers' PCs when they leave?
  • Officers only give "half responses" when they reply.
  • Sometimes there are last minute negotiations by the top planning officers with developers that mean things appears on the same day as the planning meeting - which does not allow proper scrutiny of the proposals.
  • Supplementary questions are not either answered or published.
  • It appears that the officers agreed to proceed with a planning application and it is then rubber stamped by the planning committee.
  • Planning officers gave the wrong advice (example sited about sunlight blocked by a proposal).
  • Views from residents and amenity groups are nearly always ignored x3
  • No planning leadership from the top.
  • Once the planning report was written after only 5 days so most views were not taken into account. Biased against residents and pro developer.
  • There is a lack of quality control in the documents that the Council produce for the planning process x4
  • Where is the revised SPD to stop our back gardens being developed? Was meant to appear in July.
  • The quality of the planning appeal reports are usually very very poor x3
  • Are officers told to write the planning report to fit a particular decision? x2
  • Lots of planning reports have factual errors in them. Even when spotted and highlighted they are not corrected for the planning meeting so wrong decisions are made x2.
  • It appears that the pre planning committee meeting consultation with developers is like the Stockholm syndrome leading to more planning applications being granted than there should be x2.
  • Sometimes the same officers are involved in the pre planning committee meeting consultation process who then write the planning report. A conflict of interest. x4
  • The planning enforcement team does not work. The take almost no action when developers have broken the rules.
  • It was stated by one resident that some officers were felt to have taken bribes
  • The officers do not appear to know the details of conservation areas.
  • The officers at the planning committee do not appear to know the details of the plan x2
  • Almost impossible to have meetings with planning officers

Issues regarding Councillors >>>
  • New Councillors are not trained and so do not know about the process.
  • Local ward councillors once a planning decision has been made should then help residents but don't (Oaks decision sited as an example)!
  • It was said that lots of the planning committee councillors do not seem to speak in clear English so it is difficult to understand what is being said.
  • Despite what they law says the planning committees always tend to vote on party lines.
  • Members of the planning committee should know the local area x2

Other comments >>>
  • Council ignores its own policies.
  • Planning process does not see residents as customers.
  • We (residents) need an outside lawyer to review and vet previous decisions.
  • Section 106 monies are often not heard of until it is too late to make an influence.
  • There needs to be a signposting document so people can have a greater understanding of the process. One has been written but the Council appears to have refused to have a meeting to disucss and approve the document.
  • Needs to be a planning manual so everyone has a common reference for what is required and who does what.
  • We need to reduce the hostility between the planning officers and residents. Council often sees it as them vs. us.
  • Treat residents' groups as an asset, not a hindrance.
  • We have weak local planning policies and so we only can use the Neighborhood Forums to generate a stronger local policy.
  • There needs to be a standing (permanent) panel to review and discuss Council planning matters.
  • Because the planning enforcement team has been moved to the anti social behavior section of Council I am concerned that the Council will move activity to stop noise issues and not on enforcing planning breaches.
  • For some complex developments we need A3 documents and not all A4.
  • Sometimes we need hard copies of documents, instead of all of them on line.
  • There are plenty of developments that are left 'open' for developers so that those who have a contract have the status as being 'pending' to aid them, potentially at the expense of residents.
  • The Council approves a development with a much worse housing density than ones that have turned down.

1 comment:

  1. All comments made on a planning application, even those hand written, should be on the Council's web site for everyone to see and Councillors to consider. That happens in LB Richmond. Case officers should give a response to each objection, unless identical, in their reports to committee. Councillors should call-in schemes where there are several published objections to prevent delegated decisions of the wrong type. Applications should be easier to find on the web site and a clear name should be given to each document for an application. Site visits should be made by Councillors on the Planning Committee. Enforcement requests should result in an immediate 'Stop Order' and prompt enforcement. To reduce the number of appeals against enforcement, case officers should propose conditions that would ensure an approved development is implemented exactly as required. e.g. no 'outhouse' should become habitable. Community representatives should be engaged in pre-application meetings of developers and planning officers. S.106 contributions should not be lost by inexperience or errors in assessing viability claims.