Memorandum submitted by Conservation Architecture and Planning (PB 29)
My name is Jack Warshaw. I am a Chartered Architect, Town Planner, Member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. I am the founding Director of a well known conservation practice and a former local government planning officer. I have some 40 years experience in various aspects of my professions.
I am concerned that Clause 150 - 154 inclusive of the above Bill, on which the public have not been consulted, may effectively remove the right to appeal against most if not all Officer delegated refusals. If the Bill is enacted in its current form, the applicant's only remedy in as yet undefined "minor application" cases will be a review, by a few local Councilors, of their own Officer's decision. From Government statistics, more than half of all authorities have over 90% of applications, currently categorised as "minor" or uncontroversial, determined by officers. This gives them considerable power to interpret policy, often worded in general terms, to fit their own opinion, particularly where matters of judgment such as design, appearance, materials, relationship to context, character, historic features, etc. rather than factual or technical matters are concerned.
In my experience Councilors are often perceived as closing ranks behind their officers when challenged. Councilor reviews may be similarly perceived by applicants and the public. Officers are sometimes perceived as "doing what Members expect," even when there is no direct Member intervention in a case. "Exchange" arrangements between authorities which have been put forward in previous Committee sessions, would not in my view overcome these perceptions. Up to now, the right to appeal against refusal and have the case heard by an independent Planning Inspector has been universal, and is perceived by all parties as fair and transparent if, perhaps necessarily, somewhat time consuming.
Most local Councilors are respected and admired for their dedication to public duty. But, unlike Planning Inspectors, they are not generally expert or experienced in planning law and practice, architectural design, listed buildings, conservation areas and so forth. In many cases, review panels would have to seek advice from professionals, even in many "minor" cases. Such advice would be denied the applicant. Furthermore, the public, including the applicant whose case is being reviewed, could be excluded from participation in the process or even being present.
Mr Robert Upton, giving evidence for the RTPI, has in my view correctly observed that the point of principle "...goes back to what I called the 1947 settlement, under which it was accepted that in return for having their rights over land possibly curtailed, people should have a right of appeal to a body other than the body that took the original decision. That principle has worked extremely well over the years, and I cannot see any evidence to show why it should change now..."
It appears to me that, although Clause 150 - 154 inclusive has been promoted as part of the Government's general effort to streamline the planning and appeals systems, it would if implemented prove counterproductive, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. For example, instead of one Inspector dealing with an appeal, a panel of, say 3 to five local Councilors would sit to review the disputed decision. They would be serviced by a number of officers; clerks, planners, administrators and possibly external advisors. All will be paid for their time. Any "exchange" system would incur further costs and might require additional professional and administrative staff. There is no reason to think that the quality of decisions would improve and reason to suspect that it would worsen. This is partly because, as I understand it, the applicant would be barred from giving additional information to the Panel.
About half of all planning decisions are for householder applications. At present only a small minority of refused householder or other "minor" applications are appealed. The vast majority of these are eventually dismissed. The proposed changes might lead to more applicants routinely requesting reviews on a "nothing to lose" basis, thus greatly increasing the number of disputed decisions. This would in turn lead to a substantial increase in the proportion and actual number of dismissals at review. The probability that the whole process would be seen as "rubber stamping" seems high.
I have dealt with many applications and appeals in many authorities. I do not think the appeals system is perfect, but I fear that once applicants, mostly ordinary householders, realise that they have effectively lost the right of appeal to an independent body, they will feel as if they have been mugged. They are likely to view the new regime as open to abuse. I therefore urge you to seek an amendment to the Bill omitting Clause 150 - 154 inclusive.