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Lewisham planning policy
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Posts: 388
Joined: May 2004
Post: #1
31-05-2008 11:04 PM

Some open questions.

Is Lewisham a light touch?
Does the system favour developers - from discussions here it seems like the planning department can assist developers in getting their application through, but would not play a similar role for those opposing (who more often than not pay Council Tax in the area)?
Does the system favour the developer in that they can appeal or reapply, yet once planning goes throught those opposing it cannot appeal
Is SE23 being eyed up as open season for those who are seeing our area as ripe for making a bit of money out of?

And should there be a different approach for developments of smaller, where possible affordable, properties as opposed to some of the mega designs going on elsewhere in SE23?

Or is BD just a luddite? And should there be limited planning controls as these are anti-competitive, stiffle innovation etc?

I just don't see the type of changes happening in SE23 being seen in the Village or West Dulwich (or as that because of the restrictions and controls the Alleynes (or whoever owns the leases) have on our neigbours?).

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Posts: 202
Joined: Jan 2008
Post: #2
22-06-2008 03:51 PM

It's not just SE23, in various parts of the borough small developments such the conversion of a house into flats does seem obtain a favourable reaction from the planning department.

I'm currently following a case where despite some bedrooms being below the minimum and other matters that go against Lewisham's own policies an officer recommended granting the application.

Just looking at the plans you could see as many units as possible had been squeezed into the property, rather than making a reasonable profit the developer wants the maximum. He appears not to worry about the consequences for those moving into the property or the surrounding area.

In his report the officer seemed to justify his support by pointing to the worst property in the road rather than all the others which have remained family homes and have had significant improvements.

It's not as if the planning officers are not aware of this developer's work in other parts of Lewisham and he doesn't seem to want to play by the rules.

Before going to committee he warned residents if it was not permitted they would be getting 'new' neighbours next week. Permission was not granted but he appears to have begun work building an extension and converting the property into flats.

Apparently there are only 3 planning enforcement officers in the borough and they have over 300 live cases.

I'm told developers will test the water with the officers and then go ahead before being granted planning permission knowing there's very little chance of an enforcement notice being served.

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Posts: 61
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #3
22-06-2008 09:18 PM

I think that there are a number of factors here. First and foremost the Council have been given a target by the Government for the building of new homes. Unfortunately, there aren't any national targets for things like preserving the character of the area, protecting existing open space and planning enforcement. This gives developers a big advantage even before the merits of any proposal are even discussed.

Perhaps this also explains why so many aspects of the local planning law which could be used to curb the worst excesses of the developers are given only lip service. Take the policy on backland and in-fill development for example (garden grabbing to you and me). This says that "the scheme must respect the character of the area, including the cumulative impact", "the scheme must be particularly sensitively designed" and "there should be no appreciable loss of privacy and amenity for adjoining houses and their back gardens". Is this policy applied in practice? I would say not. It is more a case of just how many houses can we squeeze into this site?

Another factor is that the Lewisham Planning Department appears to be chronically under resourced. The dismal record on planning enforcement is one of the inevitable results. I went to one meeting addressed by the Head of Planning who as much as admitted that they simply don't bother with certain breaches. It also means that when the planners are up against developers who can afford to hire the best planning consultants and planning lawyers they are simply outgunned.

Lack of resources does nothing for moral within an organisation and I wonder what the level of staff turnover is within the Planning Department. To apply policy in a consistent manner it helps to have a stable workforce.

The lack of funds also means that the Council can be reluctant to refuse a planning application in case the applicant appeals the decision to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. If the Council lose an appeal they can be ordered to pay the costs of the other side.

Moving on there is the role of the Planning Committee. If a planning application receives a certain number of objections it goes to the Planning Committee. This is made up of local Councillors and usually sits every other week on a Thursday night. From what I have been told attendance can be patchy concentrating power in the hands of those that do attend.

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Posts: 3,238
Joined: Mar 2005
Post: #4
23-06-2008 09:01 AM

Local Councils really have limited powers over developments outside conservation areas, although there are still plenty of guidelines that do apply and are sometimes enforced. However, in conservation areas (and I am sure this includes Dulwich Village) regulations are tighter and local councils can have a greater say on the design aspect of buildings in the area. Even so there have been some new build houses right beside Dulwich Park and I am sure local residents objected.

It is possible for the council to protect green areas, as they have chosen to do on the reservoir above Honor Oak Road, but not on the area behind Tyson Road. They also reject some roof conversions and extensions but allow other, with little consistency between properties. It appears that the different planning officers and three different planning committees function with differing degrees of effectiveness.

The issue of enforcement regarding planning and conservation areas is an interesting issue. If there is litter on the streets you can report it to and it will be dealt with, but if somebody puts up a satellite dish or shop frontage in a conservation area without appropriate permission, there is very little we can do.

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Posts: 235
Joined: Nov 2007
Post: #5
23-06-2008 02:07 PM

Compared with neighbouring LB Southwark, Lewisham's Planners do seem to have set a very low bar for quality and design of buildings.

Even if we have to accept - reluctantly - that in-fill sites will get filled-in and petrol stations etc will be converted into housing, there is no reason why the developers should not be required to design and build something that looks good, and will enhance the area.

The old petrol station in Perry Vale is where I think they have got it right, that block with those blue panels in Westbourne Drive is awful (imho, apologies if you live there)

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Posts: 58
Joined: Nov 2007
Post: #6
23-06-2008 02:10 PM

Don't forget that whether or not the officers recommend an application for approval, it is the planning committee that (in large applications or where a number of objections have been received) decide the outcome of the application. Planning Committee members are democratically elected councillors and the decision within committee is also taken democratically via a majority vote.

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Posts: 61
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #7
23-06-2008 09:03 PM

Yes, that's true, but let's not kid ourselves on the health of local democracy. Check out the number of votes that the winning Councillors in your ward received and you may be in for a shock:

For the Forest Hill Ward the winning Councillors got 1176, 1434 and 1439 votes respectively last time round.

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Posts: 202
Joined: Jan 2008
Post: #8
24-06-2008 12:14 AM

Many applications I see on the planning website have no response from anyone, even when it clearly is a fire trap! But don't worry the applicant pointed out there was a fire station the other side of the road. Despite that the application was rejected.

It is the inconsistancy that I notice and on the larger projects the applicants use it to their advantage. An applicant for a block of flats pointed out there was no theme to surrounding buildings they where a mish mash of ideas and design and therefore his design that was different again was justified.

Also little things can make a difference, such as the placement and design of signs. I was in West London at the weekend where a controlled parking zone has been introduced. The council had adapted the required signs to fit in with the surroundings so they do not dominate the landscape.

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Posts: 133
Joined: May 2007
Post: #9
24-06-2008 10:40 AM

Overall, I think that the planning process favours the applicant.

Sure, their first offering may be refused permission but they can appeal or resubmit as many times as they wish until it is granted, often still to the detriment of the neighbours.

Conversely, once an application has been granted planning permission the objector has no further right to appeal.

Also, you can call me cynical but every new development built is more council tax in the coffers. So the number of new properties proposed for Tyson Road would benefit the council very nicely.

What amazes me though is how in some cases, perfectly good (and very attractive) housing can be demolished so that several new properties can be shoehorned into the original size plot.

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Posts: 202
Joined: Jan 2008
Post: #10
28-06-2008 09:40 AM

In the planning application I have been following the report to committee was written before the consultation period had ended.

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Posts: 388
Joined: May 2004
Post: #11
11-11-2008 11:14 PM

An interesting conversation with a planning expert who compared Bromley (very good practice and Commitees who don't always side with the planning deparment), and Lewisham which on my reckoning only goes against the planning report once or twice a year (it is torturous going through the data, but I want to remain objective).

Meanwhile Newsshopper (5 Nov) has a letter "putting planning nightmares on the big screen" talking about a making a documentary on some of the more controversial decisions made by Lewisham. Contact if you feel that you would want to get involved or PM me if you want to know a little more (not that I am Ann Marrie I hasten to add)

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