Fringe Box



Letter: Changes Are Required to GBC’s Planning Process

Published on: 1 Apr, 2016
Updated on: 1 Apr, 2016

planning permission 200From Graham Moore

In view of major developments involved in Guildford Borough Council’s Local Plan, it is vital that all planning decisions are explained and justified.

Our neighbour obtained planning consent to build a two-storey house in replacement of the existing one.  His original plan, which had been scaled down after discussion with the council, was subject to several conditions including adherence to GBC policy for such houses in the green belt.  The agreed plan had a floor area 42% larger than the existing house, with “a maximum roof ridge of 8.3 metres” (compared with 8.9 metres)  This approval took into account previous plans for extensions for which individual certificates of lawfulness had been obtained.

The house was then constructed as a three-storey house, double the size of the old house, at least 62% greater in volume, and with a roof ridge two metres higher.   As it is so materially larger than the agreed plan, a retrospective application was demanded.

However the chief planning officer agreed this revised design on the grounds that there were “special circumstances”. I asked the planning officers to explain what special circumstances exist now, that were not taken into account when the original plan was approved.

On receiving no reply, I registered a formal complaint with GBC. The first response went into some detail but avoided answering this question.  I therefore escalated my complaint to the next two layers but neither of them even acknowledged the question, let alone attempted to answer it. So I then asked Cllr Spooner [council leader and leading councillor for planning], but he too avoided the question.

I also recommended to him that to reduce any suspicion of impropriety, the council ought to adopt a policy that any major departure from planning permission, particularly if made retrospectively, should require submission to the Planning Committee; it should not be left to the planning officers.

Our former ward councillors, previous to the election last May, had agreed that this should be done in this particular case, but our two new councillors for Shalford refused.  And Cllr Spooner has ignored my suggestion.

According to a BBC documentary and an article the developer in question  had published in a building magazine, he successfully employed the tactic of incremental retrospective applications in another Surrey borough, when, after many changes in design, he got retrospective approval for a house almost twice the size of that which it replaced.

One cannot but wonder how he dares to take such “calculated risks”, as he calls them, without previous assurances that whatever he does will get approval.

Is it any wonder that I agree with Private Eye’s classification of Guildford as a “Rotten Borough”? GBC really must be prepared to justify its decisions and demonstrate that their planning process is absolutely transparent.

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Responses to Letter: Changes Are Required to GBC’s Planning Process

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 1, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Sadly in Burpham both the Aldi fiasco and 63 Burpham Lane also suffered the ‘strange and mysterious’ ways of planning and subsequent enforcement.

    Perhaps a little openness by our local planning authority would prevent ‘standard and acceptable modifications’ creeping stealthy through the system and becoming points of serious mismanagement and concern for the community.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    April 1, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    On 17 February, 2015 the Executive Head of Governance wrote to me: “There is no positive duty on the council to ensure that the Local Code of Practice is complied with on a case by case basis. It is a framework for conduct of members and officers to adhere across the range of work of a local planning authority but the way in which members do so is matter for each of them.”

    The Juneja affair appears to show that application of the code is voluntary. If the Conservative Executive and the Conservative majority on the ‘standards’ committee deem that no transgression took place (as in the case of Ms Juneja) then that appears to be the end of the matter. They appear to be acting as judge and as jury.

    There are profound conflicts of interest in acting in a quasi-judicial role as the enforcer of planning rules and as adviser to property developers. There is such as thing as regulatory capture:

    If the code is to be credible then a genuinely independent person or group ought to be responsible for upholding the standards it avows.

  3. Dave Smith Reply

    April 2, 2016 at 9:46 am

    There is no logic to Guildford’s own planning policies and many times the officers end up looking foolish at appeal.

    One of the most ridiculous aspects is the fact that extensions should be subservient to the original dwelling and look like extensions. Other than in a listed or period building where this would make sense why would anyone want an addition to their house to look like an extension – surely they would want it to blend and look like one house?

    A way of combating these silly policies is to just demolish a dwelling and start from scratch there it seems the same arguments don’t apply. Would knocking a house down affect the existing character of it? I think it is quite likely!

  4. Gina Redpath Reply

    April 2, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Charlotteville, Guildford’s, and probably England’s, first planned urban village, built to a Henry Peak* design, is a conservation area, adjacent to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the former workhouse.

    It is of great historical importance to Guildford and you would think it would have ultimate protection.

    If you apply for permission to install a new window GBC will insist on a full planning application and wood sliding sashes – commendable.

    But where the window is replaced with plastic, without planning consent, they do nothing – stating there is no a material or style alteration.

    This is illogical and seems to demonstrate a disorganised, lazy, unconcerned and undisciplined approach to conservation.

    [*Henry Peak, Guildford’s first borough architect and surveyor in the 19th century.]

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