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The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Property Clinic -

Con­tin­u­ing the se­ries in which our Clinic ex­perts pro­vide a guide to those dif­fi­cult prob­lems that can trip up the un­wary.

This week, John Win­ter on ap­proach­ing plan­ning com­mit­tees: I want to build a bun­ga­low on land I have in­her­ited. How do I get plan­ning per­mis­sion? Ap­pli­ca­tions for plan­ning con­sent are made to the plan­ning de­part­ment of the lo­cal author­ity in whose area the pro­posal is lo­cated. The ap­pli­ca­tion is han­dled by the of­fi­cers of the plan­ning de­part­ment who sub­mit it to the plan­ning com­mit­tee, usu­ally with a rec­om­men­da­tion one way or the other. So, who makes the fi­nal de­ci­sion? The plan­ning com­mit­tee will lis­ten to their of­fi­cers’ ad­vice, then make up their own minds. The plan­ning com­mit­tee con­sists of coun­cil­lors who are elected and un­paid mem­bers of the lo­cal author­ity. The of­fi­cers are salaried em­ploy­ees of the lo­cal author­ity. How can I be sure that the sys­tem is fair? Coun­cil­lors of­ten have weighty de­ci­sions to make that fre­quently in­volve large sums of money. They are there­fore con­strained by codes and pro­to­cols de­signed to help them both to act fairly and to be seen to act fairly.

They are obliged to de­clare an in­ter­est and to re­frain from vot­ing if the item un­der dis­cus­sion af­fects them di­rectly. They are sup­posed to de­clare if they have been ap­proached by a per­son who wishes to per­suade them to sup­port or to op­pose a project and to refuse to lis­ten to such peo­ple if they in­tend to vote on the is­sue. So, be­fore the vote I can­not approach any in­di­vid­ual coun­cil­lors on the com­mit­tee about the mer­its of my ap­pli­ca­tion? No. It may seem odd that lob­by­ing a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment on an is­sue of na­tional im­por­tance is all part of the demo­cratic process, but lob­by­ing a coun­cil­lor on a lo­cal plan­ning is­sue is taboo. How­ever, that is the sit­u­a­tion ac­cord­ing to the codes. If you want to fur­ther your case, you have two op­tions:

You can write to the clerk of the com­mit­tee, who can dis­trib­ute a copy of the let­ter to all com­mit­tee mem­bers. The clerk may also send a copy to op­po­nents of the scheme, who may be in­vited to re­spond by let­ter; this let­ter will also be dis­trib­uted to mem­bers.

Or, you can write to the clerk of the com­mit­tee and ask to speak at the plan­ning com­mit­tee meet­ing in per­son. How­ever, you should be aware that if this re­quest is granted, op­po­nents may be given a sim­i­lar fa­cil­ity to speak at the meet­ing.

All is de­signed to be fair and be seen to be scrupu­lously fair. John Win­ter runs his own ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice.

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