Monday, 26 January 2015

Site visits help avoid last-minute planning delay

With elections looming for many local councils, how can developers avoid their plans being kicked into the political long grass on the grounds of requiring a site visit and delaying a decision being taken?

Proposals may have that all-important recommendation to approve from an authority’s planning officer and key politicians may have been fully briefed during the whole development process, however, when it comes down to it – and often when faced with local opposition – decisions on many schemes are being deferred until a site visit has been undertaken.

To many independent observers, not to mention those actively linked to the specific project, this is a cynical approach to avoid public criticism and protect political positions. 

The public would want to know that their elected representatives are in full possession of the facts and able to make informed decisions, and many would expect this to include a site visit as a matter of course. 

So shouldn’t a site visit be an integral, and recognised, part of any community engagement programme for proposals of a specific size? Many councils have made it part of their planning protocols – but some are lagging behind. 

To avoid delaying tactics, one option is to formally invite members, to visit the site and have a briefing. 

Planning officers who would accompany the councillors and take the lead during the visit, outlining the proposed development in the context of the authority’s planning policies.

While some authorities are sensitive over what could be seen as lobbying, it is hard to see how a site visit could be anything other than an informative and positive piece of engagement.

The key is to put the offer of a site visit to the planning officers as soon as possible. If the offer is accepted, and a visit goes ahead, it would significantly reduce the prospect of that eleventh-hour delay. If your offer is rejected, and the committee turns down the proposal, it wouldn't do you any harm when it comes to any appeal.

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