I objected to housing development plans and won – here’s how

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New housing developments are springing up across the UK amid intense pressure for homes and the government’s bid to build 300,000 properties per year by the mid-2020s.

Labour has promised that it will build 1.5 million new homes within the next five years if it wins the election while the Conservatives have said they will build 1.6 million over the next parliament.

However, not all proposed housing developments are welcome and many object to suggested plans.

Peter*, is one such person who objected to a proposed housing development and won. He told i: “My wife and I live in a very rural hamlet. There are approximately 20 houses, two roads and lots of surrounding fields.

“Some of the fields are large and used by the farmer for crops and cattle, and some of the fields are small-holdings, in some cases, owned by the house adjacent to the field. It’s this latter situation that caused problems.

“The small field owner tried to have new houses built by developers, or as one developer put it, they intended to ‘fill in all the in-fills’ between the houses.”

An application was submitted by a developer to build nine houses on a small field that was owned by Peter’s neighbour.

He told i: “As a hamlet, we fought against this. Our two villages started a WhatsApp group to discuss any developments in the case.

“We distributed leaflets to every house in the vicinity, encouraging people to submit an objection. In the end, an expert helped us write the objection and persuaded the council that the proposed development was not a good idea.

“A planning committee meeting was held and the development was unanimously rejected. We were relieved and delighted.”

i spoke to Owen Hoare, a chartered town planner and owner of Objection Experts, to find out how to object to a proposed development near you.

Success cannot be guaranteed, but taking the following eight steps should ensure your objection is curated effectively and taken seriously.

1. Review plans carefully

Planning requests can be complicated, particularly when they have been developed by large-scale housing developers using architects, lawyers and other experts.

Before jumping in and submitting an objection to a proposal, sit back and take time to review precisely what is being proposed.

Owen said: “Have a good look through the plans and relevant documentation. On a large scheme, this can be difficult.

“For instance, a scheme may have flood risk assessments, ecology reports and an arboricultural report attached to it. A thorough examination of all the documentation may raise further issues that you missed initially.”

2. Examine nearby proposals

Local councils have online planning portals that enable you to view planning applications and decisions.

Owen said: “Examine the planning applications for decided local developments near you and read the officer’s reports. Doing this will give you an understanding of local planning policies and how they are applied to your council.

“Every council website is different, but most allow you to look at planning applications on a map or use an advanced search option to find applications.

“Look closely at developments near the application site to ascertain what the officer will be considering.”

3. Make a list of what matters

The most effective objections are carefully considered and hone in on what planning officials factor in when making their decisions.

Owen said: “There is no definition of what is material and what is not, but anything listed directly within planning policy would be material.”

He added: “Make a list of your issues with the development scheme. These could range from visual issues such as the development being out of keeping with the surrounding area, sitting too close to the boundaries, or having an overbearing impact.”

Other issues which can be taken into account include, among others, the design, layout, density and materials used in the proposed development and problems with overshadowing or overlooking.

The effect of the proposed development on nearby listed buildings or conservation areas can be factored in, as can issues like parking, highway safety and access to public transport. Any potential negative impact of the development on local ecology and trees should also be flagged.

4. Factor in local and national planning policies

There are local and national development frameworks in place. These outline the factors officials will consider when making decisions on proposed housing developments. The National Planning Policy Framework is a cornerstone document in the UK planning system.

Owen said: “Look through local and national planning policy to find where the issues on your list and planning policy overlap.

“Every council will have their planning policies, policies maps and supplementary planning documents available on their website – these contain policies relating to design, residential amenity, ecology and highways, for instance. Planning decisions will be made in accordance with specific development plans.”

He added: “Ensure that your concerns are written out in a concise manner, with specific reference to the planning policies you believe that the proposal fails to comply with.

“Also remember that even if you are unsuccessful in getting an application refused outright, it would be useful to suggest conditions to make the application more acceptable, for example, asking the council to ensure that any upper floor side-facing windows are non-opening and obscure-glazed to maintain the privacy of neighbours.”

File photo dated 13/01/20 of new houses being constructed. Political parties must commit to building a new generation of social homes to end the housing emergency, according to a coalition of charities, businesses and campaigners. An open letter with a range of signatories including Grenfell United, The Health Foundation and Ikea is urging a "mass social housebuilding programme" and emphasising the positive impact social rent homes can have on those who grow up in them. Issue date: Thursday May 30, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Housing. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The next government could boost growth by £23bn by increasing density of new housing (Gareth Fuller/PA)

5. Avoid speculation

Planning applications often ignite intense emotions among those most likely to be affected, particularly if a large development is on the cards.

However, it is important to put emotion to one side when submitting an objection. Certain issues that may seem relevant to you may be deemed irrelevant by planning officials.

Owen said: “Issues which are non-material include anything in relation to the applicant or their background and history, the loss of views and property value, construction noise and dust during the development process, civil issues such as boundary disputes or damage to property.

“Speculation on future development and discussions of personal circumstances should also be avoided.”

He added: “The protection of purely private interests are generally not considered to be material planning considerations.”

6. Note the deadline

Objections to planning applications must be submitted within a set time frame. Large proposed developments can be time-consuming to sift through, so make sure you set aside sufficient time to scrutinise the proposals and write a concise but comprehensive objection.

Owen told i: “Although councils generally accept objection letters received after the time limit, you would not want a decision to be made before your objection has reached it.”

7. Get your neighbours involved

If you are concerned about a proposed housing development near you, the chances are some of your neighbours will be too.

Own said: “Discuss your concerns with your neighbours and try to get them to submit their own objections. Individual letters are far more effective than a petition. In many cases, with sufficient neighbour support, the application can be pushed to a committee, where councillors will decide the application.

“It is a good idea to contact your councillor or parish council at the outset and ask them to call the application to committee themselves.”

8. Don’t be afraid to speak up

If the planning application ends up being discussed at a planning committee meeting, do not be afraid to speak up. Owen said that this part of the process is often crucial.

He said: “You will get to read the officer’s report before the committee meeting, and you can use this as a base to form your speech.

“Speaking at the committee meeting will give you an opportunity to make your case and present your objections to your elected councillors. This is often the difference between an approval and a refusal.”

Do councils really take objections seriously?

Many people will have objected to seemingly outlandish proposals, which have been given the green light by officials despite amassing a high number of objections, prompting questions about how effective objections really are.

Tim Folkes, a director at AFA Planning Consultants, told i: “It’s the duty of a council to look and consider all planning objections submitted within a deadline. However, objections have to be on planning-related grounds and will carry more weight if written with relevant planning knowledge and policy.

“The council must consider planning grounds seriously, though that does not necessarily mean that the development must or will be refused. It is for the council to consider the objection alongside all other merits of the application in question.”

A spokesperson for The Town & Country Planning Association said: “Getting input from those who live and work in the area into the planning system is really important and it is done at a number of stages within the process.

“The opportunity to comment on a specific planning application is only one of those opportunities, and it is quite far along in the process.

“So, the challenge is often that some fundamental decisions have already been made when the local plan was consulted on and put in place. This can include decisions about what a site should be used for, so for example whether that is housing or commercial development.”

Owen told i: “There is often a feeling that councils do not take objections into account, but this is not the case.

“Objections are extremely useful for councils and when an objection raises material planning considerations, the officer is duty bound to respond specifically to these considerations within their report.

“Objections can often raise local concerns, which the officer may be unaware of, and allow the officer to gain as much information as possible regarding the impact of the proposed development scheme.

“What’s more, large numbers of objections can mean that the application goes to a planning committee, meaning that the chances of having the application refused are increased.”

* Name has been changed

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