Engage your community and your local planning authority.
Telling the local planning authority your views is just the start of the process. You'll need as much support as possible, from within the local planning authority and the community, to make sure that the authority's decision takes account of your views. The more people who agree with you, and are willing to say so, the stronger your case will be.
For most major cases (unless the Government decides to call in the application), local planning authority councillors make decisions on planning applications. The planning officer should report the existence and gist of your written comments to the councillors when they meet as the planning committee. Don't assume members of the committee will read your letter directly.
A few days after you submit your views to the planning department, phone the case officer at the planning authority to make sure your comments have been received and to ask how they are likely to be treated. You might want to arrange a meeting with the officer involved to explain your case. Face-to-face, you may be able to bolster arguments that the authority thinks are weak, or argue against different viewpoints.
The planning officer handling the application will write a report to councillors to help them decide whether to grant planning permission. The officer may include a summary of your comments in the report.
- The time local planning authorities should take to decide non-major planning applications
You're legally entitled to look at the planning officer's report to the councillors' planning committee at least five days before they meet to make a decision. It's important to take this opportunity. You'll be able to see what information councillors are being given, and what decision the planning officer recommends they make. It will help you know how to brief councillors if you get a chance to speak at the meeting where a decision will be made and give you time to alert the local media if necessary.
Sometimes a planning decision is delegated by the councillors to the chief planning officer. Different authorities have different arrangements for delegating decisions but it is normal practice for council officers to take decisions on most minor applications. Try to find out early on who will decide on your particular application, and when, as this will affect what other action you need to take.
It's a good idea to write to, phone or meet councillors before the decision is taken to make sure your views are heard. Ask the chief executive's office or administration department in your local planning authority for their names and contact details, or look at the local planning authority's website. It's especially important to contact the councillors representing the ward affected by the planning application.
Suggest a site visit by councillors if you think an issue can only be fully appreciated on the ground.
It used to be the case that local councillors could not take any action that implied how they might vote on a planning application before it was discussed by the local planning committee. Changes made by the Localism Act however have changed this, so local councillors should be able to get more involved with campaigns on local planning applications.
Whether you're supporting or opposing a planning application, give councillors the reasons for this. You might also want to suggest conditions that should be attached to any planning permission granted.
- The length of time it should take to decide on major planning applications
Your goal is not only to convince the councillors that you have a case in planning terms, but to demonstrate the support your case has in the local community. Planning officers are mainly interested in the planning arguments, but councillors will often give weight to wider views. Planning is not a science and councillors may judge the issues differently from officers.
Liaise and coordinate your efforts with groups like the parish council, local organisations (CPRE group, the Women's Institute and residents' associations, for example), local businesses, your MP, community leaders, and organisations the planning authority might consult (for example, the Environment Agency or Natural England). A petition signed by locals can also be helpful, although lots of individually signed letters tend to carry much more weight.
It makes sense to approach the councillors who sit on the planning committee and take the decision. Your ward councillor may be permitted to attend and speak on behalf of local people at a meeting you organise, even if not on the committee. Pay special attention to the views of the councillor who chairs the committee and steer clear of party politics. Councillors are required to make planning decisions on grounds relevant to planning, not on party lines.