A cynical view of the hurdles

We rely on our team of professional experts

The sum of money that has to be put out by anyone making a planning application for new development is huge. Most of the cost is in paying for the services of a team of experts to present their respective speciality reports so that the ultimate decision maker can balance those with assessments made by the LPA or their own internal or external experts.

Incidentally, the professional responsibility of an expert is absolutely the same as it would be in a court of law. Specifically, the expert must be absolutely neutral. If we want to counter the position taken by an LPA on a particular subject we produce an expert report to do so. If the LPA produces evidence of their own expert, then we need to consider carefully what part of their report consists in mere opinion and then find our own expert with a different opinion.

When a report is put forward by an in-house expert, he/she has no obligation except to their employer. We therefore must spend several thousand pounds in obtaining a report which contradicts the in-house policy or opinion. Of course, this is a ridiculous waste of money, but as long as district councillors set policies which, taken together, oppose development and Government inspectors do not challenge such policies in their five yearly assessment of the local plan, that is how it has to be.

A common objection by a developer relates to a situation where the government has introduced a regulation of which the LPA strongly approves. Because the LPA think it’s a good idea they “gold plate” their own version by demanding a higher standard. This virtue signalling results in the developer having to take on board the excessive requirement to comply with it. The outcome is not easy to anticipate or forecast. If other new houses in the area are cheaper because they have not spent that marginal cost then it is difficult for us to comply and yet still be able to sell your land at full price. Sometimes we are able to compromise.

Making that scenario even more difficult, is the fact that a development proposal can be stymied by just one of many special interest groups. They fall into two categories: groups of individuals on the one hand, and the powerful and extremely well funded protection charities and quangos, always supported by old and new media.

Here are a few example of hurdles we might have to leap:

  • one rare orchid or butterfly seen only 500m distant;
  • one six fingered blue crested, flying toad seen not far away;
  • multiple shards of Roman or mediaeval pottery near the old midden of a derelict Victorian cottage;
  • the proximity to an ancient battlefield (no one is sure where, but it must have been somewhere around here);
  • a view across your land from a nearby footpath, of a listed church, 10,000 metres distant;
  • local people whose houses will no longer have a clear view of open fields;
  • a hint of contamination by, well, anything;
  • an increase in traffic on the adjacent road;
  • an increase in parking issues at the local school (we really do sympathise with this one);
  • the doctor’s surgery is too far away (800m, usually) to reach on foot; (most LPAs in rural areas require that residents should walk up to 800m to local facilities rather than use a car. That can be tough if you have a baby in a pram and a toddler at your side on a raining winter’s day - or anytime if you are 88 years old).
  • driving to the doctor is against green policy; (if you are too sick to travel, too bad);
  • the “setting” of an nearby cottage (not listed) will be spoiled.
Of course, the killer is the Green Belt, marked out in the 1950's to preserve food production in case of another war and prevent overspill from London.
In all these cases, we have no alternative than to field an experienced expert who is capable of providing a balanced opinion about the generally and professionally accepted position on each of them. However, even that is not enough. We have to know enough ourselves, within the company, to be able to manage this big team of experts. We have to understand what each is talking about. Above all, we have to be able to relate each report what we know about the site itself. That means our first walk-about is never our last. By the time we have planning permission, you could say we are on first name terms with every blade of grass.
Finally, the unspoken but powerful issue that local people do not want an influx of socially inferior people who might have noisy children or want to join the tennis club. Just whisper that one.
If you would like a useful summary of our services, here it is.
(Before you judge us, please accept that we approve of many of the basic propositions on which the above hurdles are predicated. The problems arise because, over time,  the degree of protection, restriction and control increases far beyond the original purpose and far out of proportion to the desperate need for more houses.)