Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Planning Thoughts

Deputy Steve Luce, the Planning Minister has recently spoken about some very good changes which he intends to make at Planning. I propose to look at three of these in turn.

Planning Creep

“On too many occasions I see plans approved only for applicants to come back later with amendments. If you want something then apply for it. If you play the system by continually trying to modify your approval you may be in for a surprise.” (Steve Luce)

Stricter controls on this would be a great improvement. Here is how the drip, drip process of planning creep works:

1. Proposals are put in to planning, and ultimately ‘toned-down’ after lobbying.
2. The mass and scale of a developed is reduced, to make it seem more tolerable
3. The revised scheme is recommended for approval by the Planning Application Panel on that basis.

And then we get phase two, because the developer and architects are not content with the revised plans.

4. Submission of a revision which in effect increases the footprint or height.
5. A series of additional revisions over a year or more all of which were approved.

The result is that bit by bit the scheme is brought back to close to the original application which had raised concerns in the first place.

Because the revisions are gradual, and work does not start at once, each is reviewed by a different body of people; and the planning officer is often different

The small increments are assessed in relation to the scheme approved so far, rather than by relation to the original plans approved, so that only small changes are perceived instead of a widening gap.

As a result, the developers get what they want one way or another.

A proper mechanism to stop playing the system would be to assess any revisions not against the last approved step, but always against the original scheme approved. It will be interesting to see if Steve Luce introduces controls like that.

But credit to him for seeing it this process of planning creep. It makes you wonder what the previous planning Ministers did and why no one else raised it – either the Minister (Cohen, Duhamel) or the members of the previous Planning Application Committee.

Planning gambles

The other method of playing the game, of course, is for the developer to go for more than you want in the hope of modifying the application to a “compromise” which really gives the developer exactly what they want!

Allegedly the housing estate in St Lawrence was an example of that, and I’m sure numerous other instances come to mind. It is less likely with smaller developments or smaller single houses, and more likely with large-scale developments, where the number of residential units allows a reduction to still keep a profit.

It’s a kind of gamble – where the player has a fall back position which they are sure they will eventually appear to be driven to, but which they are actually content to accept.

As far as game theory goes, it’s a good strategy for the developer, but one which wastes time of the planning department and those protesting, as they have to go over the protest again after the reduced plans have been put in place.

It’s difficult to see what mechanism could prevent this, but if it is a modus operandi of particular architects or developers, at least the culprits can be exposed by the number of times they have done this.

Time Limits on Planning Applications

According to the JEP, Steve Luce has said that “the current five-year time-limit under which a planning permission remains active could be reduced to deter speculative development that left sites empty.”

“Extending permissions currently does not cost anything and is a ‘rubber stamp’ exercise, according to Deputy Luce. Now, he is also considering adding a charge for planning permission extensions.”


That’s another area – look at Le Masuriers – keeping planning permission on those St Brelade sites opposite the La Moye school open for decades, and then deciding to use them – no appeal because permission had been given, regardless of what other changes might come along

And changes there were, as the Links Halt development must have changed the value of the land opposite it – from a run-down and tired pub to residential and shop.

Le Masuriers also have Milano Bars as an “open site” but have problems there because the permission is restricted to another hotel, and they’d like housing!

The question is how many “long term” planning permissions are out there, forgotten about, just awaiting the opportune moment to be re-activated?

When I wanted to a garage conversion, incidentally, I was given one year to do it, with no extensions. Evidently the five year limit doesn’t apply to small minnows!

My correspondent Adam Gardiner has some interesting ideas for dealing with long term plans kept on ice, and I finish with his suggestions, which I think have considerable merit:

Sites kept empty for protracted periods should also be discouraged in some way. Personally I would consider:

1. A rates surcharge on a brown field site with existing buildings while it remained undeveloped and/or unoccupied and

2. An incremental charge applied to any development site if an planning application was not submitted within 2 years.

I believe that some parts of the UK local authorities apply surcharged rates on re-development projects to discourage what are called ‘holding applications’.

Tesco have recently fallen foul of this - plans approved for supermarkets that have never been built. The reason is surprisingly simple. Holding applications deny the local authority the rateable value from the site had it been developed. I don’t see why that strategy could not be adopted in Jersey.

1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

"Extending permissions currently does not cost anything and is a ‘rubber stamp’ exercise, according to Deputy Luce. Now, he is also considering adding a charge for planning permission extensions"

Mr Gardiner covers this but I think having a short time limit, for all on commencement of construction after permission is granted, is the way. Also, exponential increases in charges, linked to the value of the proposed project, for each revision submitted just might concentrate minds a bit.