To discuss the following matters raised by the local councils:
i. Sustainability in New Builds- EFDC has a sustainability checklist that applications for both major and minor new developments should include. However, at Parish planning meetings we are seeing the majority of applications for new builds coming before us lacking this completed checklist. What procedures do planning officers have in place to remedy this lack of documentation going forward?
ii. Failure of planning applications to adhere to Essex Parking Standards-The SV Local Plan states the Essex Parking Standards (not policy T1) should be the starting point for all new planning applications until localised parking standards are adopted. No date has been given for any consultation on these localised standards so far. In the meantime, we are seeing planning applications recommended for approval that fail to comply with EPS with no explanation as to why officers consider these applications need not be policy compliant. What can be done to ensure non-compliant applications are refused in these situations?
iii. Failure of planning applications to meet Local Plan policy on affordable housing provision- The government has published clear principles on how viability statements should be assessed, presented and considered in terms of decision making and transparency. Adhering to these guidelines assists in ensuring that developments are compliant with local affordable housing policy. Applications have come before us that do not adhere to either the government guidance or local policy. What can be done to ensure officers reject non-compliant viability statements and thus refuse applications that do not deliver 40% on site affordable housing rather than recommend approval for non-compliant proposals in these situations?
iv. Sustainability in New Builds - EFDC has a sustainability checklist for newbuilds. What is the point if nothing is being done to ensure the carbon neutral by 2050 (amber) or by 2030 (green) standards are achieved in new builds rather than the bare legal minimum (red column) being acceptable? How are the proposals on the checklist being enforced e.g. who is checking what proportion of site waste is being recycled, whether sustainable heating methods promised are actually being installed?
v. Democratic representation in the planning process - Permitted Development rights were amended in Aug 2020 to allow up to an additional two storeys on top of many buildings under PD rather than a full planning application being needed. This has led to applications for additional flats on top of existing flats being granted under prior approval by a single officer. These have not come to an Area Planning committee, even when a large number of objections were submitted. This seems undemocratic. The EFDC constitution allows for Prior Approval applications to be decided at committee at the discretion of the Chief Planning Officer so there is a process in place for such contentious and impactful decisions to be considered. What is being done to ensure this category of prior approvals for PD will be decided in future by committee rather than a single officer?
vi. Planning Enforcement Action – Being a discretionary power of the Council, could it be explained how the Council decides when it appropriate and justifiable to investigate any breaches.
The Chairman advised that items (i) and (iv) would be taken together as they related to a similar matter.
i. Sustainability in New Builds
The Development Management Service Manager advised that the Council had a Sustainability Checklist as part of the Council’s validation requirements and this had been in place for a year. Initially it had been quite difficult to get applicants and agents to submit these forms, although it was nearly at 100% now. The suitability statements were being published on the Council website and where they form part of the submission bungled and mention in any planning approval documents were consulted on.
He advised that it was difficult to produce planning conditions in relation to the sustainability statements that complied with the Government guidance on applying lawful planning conditions. Therefore, the monitoring and enforcement of the sustainability issues fell into the 106 Section process and procedures. There had been internal officer discussions regarding how best to gain compliance, although the Council was required to assess the sustainability over three stages which were; the planning application phase; as built; and after occupation.
It was noted that the main policies had been set out in the draft Local Plan and the Sustainability Guidance sat behind the policies.
The Committee asked the following further questions.
· At what point did the sustainability statement become available to the Parish/Town Councils? The Development Management Service Manager advised that the Sustainability Checklist and statements had to be submitted with the application, which were then considered by a policy officer. There was a small opportunity for the Council to requested additional information but once the consultation on the application had begun all documentation would be available on the Council’s website.
· Why a Parish Council had received several applications without the required checklists and if they did have the sustainability statements why were the minimum requirements were suggested? The Development Management Service Manager advised that those without checklists may have been associated with the backlog of SAC application which had been validated several years ago and fell outside this requirement. The Council was not allowed to retrospectively ask for the suitability requirements. It was noted that following a request from a District Councillor, all the SAC applications were consulted on again, which had allowed for some voluntary submissions. Regarding the minimum requirements, it would be very hard for the Council to refuse an application on the sustainability guidance because it was guidance, therefore it involved a discussion around suitability in conjunction with the other planning merits.
· Would the sustainability guidance become policy? The Service Director advised that the Council had recently adopted the EFDC Sustainability Guidance Volume 3 (Extension & Refurbishments) on 7 March 2022, which provided the technical and practical guidance which would take time to embed. The Development Management Service Manager advised that two of the Council officers would be attending a zero carbon and sustainability training as well.
· How would demolishing an old building and building a new one be weighed against a viable conversion in the Carbon Bill? The Development Management Service Manager advised that he would ask officers to raise this at their training. It was noted that Council could only control the method of demolishment and a carbon mission policy would need to be place if it was to be taken into consideration.
The Service Director advised that the Climate Action Plan would be presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 31 March 2022 and some of the issues being raised may be addressed in the report or could be raised as questions by District Councillors at the meeting.
· Was planning permission required to demolish a property? The Service Manager advised that in general, planning permission was not required to demolish a building unless it was listed or in a conservation area. Although method of demolishment required via a prior notification procedure which would need to be agreed with the Council. Regarding Locally Listed Buildings, the Council was able to apply a policy to prevent the demolishment of these assets.
ii. Failure of planning applications to adhere to Essex Parking Standards-
The Service Director advised that the Essex Parking Standards adopted in 2009 and were considered out of date and standards within urban areas could be relaxed in sustainable locations. It was noted that Essex County Council (ECC) and other Essex authorities were looking at the approach to transport for new communities and were considering a zonal approach. The new standards would look at safety, quality of life, congestion, sustainability, and economic growth rather than just dwelling figures. In addition to this, there would also be a transport accessibility tool which would enable officers to consider what was actually there and it was hoped that a consultation on this would follow later in year.
The Committee made the following comments
· A commonsense approach should be considered with regards to developments the amount of car spaces that were required.
· The cumulative effect of developments with a lack of parking onsite which effected the surrounding areas and how that impacted the town centres nearby. The Service Manager advised that behind the Local Plan was an Infrastructure Delivery Plan. In addition to this the Council had signed up to reduce the reliance on private motor vehicles, which would in turn reduce the number of the parking spaces required, which had been occurring in London for some time. Regarding the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) developments, extensive work had been carried out to map the potential travel requirements and travel assessments were asked for on these types of applications.
· Comparisons between London and Essex could not be drawn because of the lack of public transport available in the District and suitability for older residents. The Service Manager commented that limiting the amount of parking was seen as a legitimate way to reduce motor vehicle trips.
· Concerns were raised about parking requirements for tradespersons visiting developments without parking requirements; the demand for electric charging points and the increase on parking demand because of the switch to electric cars; the need to be more considerate around creating local amenities; and access to doctors, hospitals etc without public transport.
· The Customer and Partnerships Services Portfolio Holder advised that in additions to all the comments, the Council had to also consider the impact of parking requirements on potential developments and how much residential space would be taken up with parking. Furthermore, EFDC had committed to maintaining as much of the green belt as possible in the District.
· Was it known when ECC would consult on the proposed parking standards and who would be consulted; and had EFDC produced their own parking standards? The Service Director advised that EFDC were still considering their own parking standards and in regard to ECC, they were behind on their own consultation which should be starting later this year.
· What were the Councils thoughts on under-croft parking? The Service Manager advised that under croft parking was a good idea visually for the environment, but it was hugely expensive and potentially would make developments unviable or developers would possibly ask for a reduction in the affordable housing requirements.
iii. Failure of planning applications to meet Local Plan policy on affordable housing provision
The Service Manager advised that yes, the Councils’ policy was to provide affordable housing if a development reached a certain threshold of dwellings or square footage. This would require 40% of onsite affordable housing units or in exceptional circumstance, a financial contribution equal to 40%. A viability statement sets out the calculations made by the developer which included 18% to 20% return, the land value, and decontaminated costs. The process was very complicated, and the Council appointed independent viability consultants as well as consulting the Housing department for their opinion on the affordable housing contribution.
It was stated that the starting point for any determination of a planning application was the Local Plan policies and other material considerations, and the viability assessments fell into the other materials considerations. Furthermore, the applicant at any time could come back to renegotiation the section 106 contribution, where they felt they were unable to make the contributions.
Could the Council prevent developers from reducing the number of dwellings on the site to avoid the affordable housing contribution, to then come back with a further proposal at a later date? The Service Manager advised that it this was called threshold abuse. It was noted that there was numerous Case Law around this area, although it was notoriously hard to prove, and the National Policy Framework may have now changed.
iv. Democratic representation in the planning process
The Service Manager advised that the Government had extended the rights of permitted development. This had allowed people to build extra stories on top of their dwellings through the requirement of prior approval, if required. If it was required only a limited number of issues could be taken into consideration. It was noted that these applications were not always considered by a planning committee because of the strict 56-day determination requirement, otherwise planning permission could be given by default and there was nothing in the Council’s Constitution regarding this issue.
v. Planning Enforcement Action
The Service Manager advised that EFDC were one of the top ranked Essex authorities for issuing Planning Enforcement Notices and across England in the top quartile. There was also the Local Enforcement Plan which had been in place since 2014 and the latest version had been consulted on and should be in place by 1 April 2022.
The Planning department would also visit Town and Parish Councils to give training to its members, if required. The Council also provided training to newly elected District members, which the Town and Parish Council could access via the Members Services Officer.