Acting for objectors

Any individual or group of individuals (such as a residents or action group) can object to a planning application. There is no need for you to live in close proximity to the site.

You may have an environmental or social concern (e.g. the effect of a new supermarket on existing small shops), or a purely personal concern (e.g. the effect on your amenity if a development proposal by a neighbour is allowed), but in all cases your objection needs to be framed in appropriate terms to be afforded weight by the decision maker.

In considering objections, the decision maker can only give weight to them if they relate to “material planning considerations”. For example, an objection stating that the proposed development will destroy the view from your property is not a “material planning consideration”. However, if the objection is put on the basis that the proposed development will overshadow your property and adversely affect your amenity, it can (and should) be considered.

A proposal which does not accord with the Development Plan (that is to say the set of planning policies against which development proposals will be considered) can be objected to on that basis. However, many such policies contain words such as “reasonable” and “significant” which are clearly open to different interpretations.

An objection is likely to be given greater weight by the decision maker if it is couched in terms which planning officers and members of the Planning Committee are used to dealing with. To some extent it is a matter of “hitting the right buttons”. If the objection is to a proposal by your neighbour, an objection expressed in detatched professional language is less likely to be seen simply as being “spiteful”.

During the many years I have worked with Local Planning Authorities and attended meetings of Planning Committees I have seen many objections and am aware of the pitfalls.

Apart from not being based upon “material planning considerations” and therefore being simply irrelevant, some objections on planning policy grounds have gone into such rambling detail that the point has been lost amongst quotations of lengthy chunks of policy documents (the contents of which are, of course, already known to the Council). Other objections, whilst raising valid points, have given the impression that they are directed against that particular applicant. I have seen this happen in “supermarket cases” where valid objections on retail policy grounds have been watered down by a “say no to Sainsbury’s/Tesco/etc.” approach, which suggests an anti-Sainsbury’s/Tesco protest rather than “a supermarket (of whatever brand) will destroy our High Street” argument.

In advising an individual or group wishing to object to an application I would consider the terms of the application and advise whether the issue you wish to raise is germane to the application. Unfortunately where applications are contentious there is often misunderstanding as to exactly what it is that is being proposed.

If the points you wish to raise do relate to the development proposed I would review the relevant planning policies, and check the planning history of the site, because if there have been previous similar applications refused, and there has been no change of circumstances in the meantime, the fact of previous refusals may strengthen your objection.

I would then prepare your objection using the benefit of my knowledge of the “right buttons to push” and avoiding the pitfalls I have seen objectors fall into.

If there is considerable local opposition to a proposal it may be worthwhile making contact with the local councillor for the area with a view to getting the application “called in” for consideration by the Planning Committee. In my experience if the local councillor is inclined to support the objection this will carry considerable weight with the Committee.

If the matter is going to be decided by the Planning Committee (bear in mind many applications are decided by planning officers under “delegated powers”) objectors can address the committee. The time allowed to address the committee is extremely short (typically two minutes) and through my many years of attending Planning Committee meetings I have seen many objectors not make the most effective use of this opportunity. Making an effective two minute presentation to Planning Committee is a particular skill. Speaking at committee is something I have plenty of experience doing and I would be happy to do so on your behalf.

If the application is refused, the applicant may appeal and if that happens I can advise you as to what further involvement you may wish to have in that process, including representing you at an informal hearing or public inquiry. For further details of appeals, click here.