Last year saw planning challenges across the county, with new housing applications put on hold due to Chilterns Beechwoods SAC, and most recently we’ve heard criticism at a national level from the Secretary of State for Leveling up, Housing and Communities - Michael Gove MP - following continued delays from St. Albans planning department.
‘Where there is and has been consistent underperformance, I will act. So today I’m taking steps to deal with underperformers within the planning system, and there is no greater failure than actually failing to have a plan in place. That is why… I’m issuing a Direction to seven of the worst authorities in terms of plan making, who have failed not just to adopt a plan, but even to submit one for examination since June 2004 – St. Albans, Amber Valley, Ashfield, Medway, Uttlesford, Basildon and Castle Point.’ Michael Gove
Whilst St. Albans Councillor Chris White has since issued a response to Mr. Gove’s public admonishment, this doesn’t change the more immediate challenges encountered from excessive Extensions of Time, outsourcing of consultations and amendment fees that are being seen in various parts of the county. Aside from the frustration of planning inefficiencies, it creates real challenges in forecasting workloads and managing resources for Architects when this crucial first stage of projects has become so unpredictable. So, what are RIBA doing to better understand the situation, and as Architects, can we do anything to improve it?
Regional Level - Actions from RIBA East
RIBA and RTPI, alongside other stakeholders are already in discussion on how to work more collaboratively, with continued talks planned for 2024 to discuss what all parties can do to improve the planning process. But for planners to understand exactly what challenges we are facing, they need to hear from us.
There is now a push for regions to build a case of how planning efficiencies, or lack thereof, affect architects in business across the UK. At the recent RIBA East Council (Dec ‘23), a call was made for branches to collate case studies from across the county which demonstrate the experiences that are being felt by architects in their daily practice - good or bad. From communication with planners, to Decision periods, outsourcing of consultation and impacts of temporary protection areas set by statutory consultees i.e. through concerns of nutrient neutrality or Special Areas of Conservation.
If you have a case study which you would like to put forward as part of this evidence base, please email them to email@example.com. Case studies should be specific, identifying planning reference numbers and the local planning authority. Case studies shall then be collated by the HAA and presented at the next regional council meeting in March.
Local Level - Actions from HAA
With 10 local planning authorities within the county, as well as county council to contend with, keeping up to date with each planning department is a challenge. Whilst RIBA are looking at a top down approach to tackle planning challenges, the HAA are approaching things in a more ‘grassroots’ fashion.
1) Connections to Local Planning Authorities Whilst there is some hesitation from planning authorities to engage, slowly but surely, the HAA are reaching out to local authorities to encourage a dialogue between the professions so that we can create feedback between both sides of the fence. This is a bit of an experiment so we don’t know where this outreach will lead to but breaking down the barriers between local planners and architects is aimed to be a positive step forward.
2) Launch of Planning Updates WhatsApp group
Inspired by the success of a similar group in the Midlands, the HAA has set-up a new WhatsApp group for Chartered Architects in Hertfordshire to share and communicate local planning updates with one another. Established with a spirit of professional collaboration, it is intended that users will share useful information and discussion to help navigate the local planning bodies and keep up to date with any changes as they are introduced. Examples of posts already shared include notice of public consultations for upcoming Local Plans, details of new planning officers and direction towards relevant SPG’s. This is a closed group that shall only be made available to Hertfordshire based Chartered Architects, so to receive sign-up information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you have joined the WhatsApp group, you will be able to select which LPA groups you would like to join so that you only receive updates for the boroughs relevant to you.
If you have an idea for an article that you’d like featured on the HAA website, please email Michelle Sweeney at email@example.com