Ron Simpson: Developing best practice over new planning applications

Ron Simpson
Ron Simpson

One of the many interesting aspects of Uppingham becoming a Neighbourhood Plan Front Runner has been the opportunity to explore new ways of working to achieve community goals and to develop best practice in consultation with others.

Prior to the government’s Localism Bill which created the Neighbourhood Planning regime, certain practices were considered routine. Typically a housing developer would consult with planning colleagues at the County Council to shape up a planning proposal and eventually submit a formal planning application. This would be considered by the county’s Development Control Committee, or sometimes, for minor schemes, simply be put before planning officers for approval. As a statutory consultee, the relevant parish council would be invited to comment on the proposal, but in practice its comments had no statutory weight and could therefore often be disregarded.

The External Examiner of the Uppingham Neighbourhood Plan, a Planning Inspector, praised the way Rutland County Council officers had collaborated with the parish team authoring the Uppingham Plan, describing their joint working as ‘exemplary’. Recent dialogue with government officials has explored how such co-operation might be extended into the process of approving planning applications which result from a Neighbourhood Plan developed and approved by a local community via a referendum. With the submission of Rutland’s first such planning application by Bloor Homes, an application to build 75 homes on the south side of Leicester Road in Uppingham, the possibility for innovative change has arrived. Bloor has recognised that a traditional approach will lead to the developer becoming piggy in the middle in a dialogue seeking to correctly interpret the detail in the N Plan. It needs to meet the expectations of the planning professionals as well as the Uppingham community. It has therefore proposed a round table approach with all three parties sitting together to work through the detail of the proposal at officer level. The Department of Communities and Local Government is supportive of the idea. Once again Rutland has the opportunity to innovate. The first meeting was scheduled for this week.

Leading up to these innovative meetings, Bloor has acknowledged that a number of key changes will need to be made to ensure its submission is compliant with the Neighbourhood Plan and anticipate that these changes will be agreed as a consequence of the roundtable talks. On this basis the application is supported by the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum and Uppingham First.

Last week the application came before Uppingham Town Council. The subsequent debate was arguably the most important the council has had for many years. In a lively debate described by new Town Clerk Neil Wedge as the best he had heard, all elected members were given an opportunity to express their views before the matter was put to the vote. A number of councillors were later heard to describe Council Chairman David Ainslie’s diplomatic and leadership skills during the debate as outstanding. Several new councillors were also key to the success of his efforts which a resulted in a 7 for and 3 against decision with two members abstaining.

So what was at the heart of the debate? While all elected members present indicated they were supportive of the application, one or two wished to see Bloor make its changes first and re-appear before the Town Council a second time to account for the changes made. The majority agreed that changes were required to make the submission compliant with the Neighbourhood Plan but acknowledged that this would best be done as part of the professional discussions to follow. Essential in those discussions will be the wording of the Section 106 developer contribution agreement for the site which aims to create sports fields to the rear of the new homes. Bloor has promised to share the draft wording of that agreement with the N Plan Task Group prior to its submission.

The proposition eventually agreed by the Town Council reads as follows: - “That Uppingham Town Council in principle supports the application by Bloor Homes on the understanding that it is amended to reflect the Uppingham Neighbourhood Plan and is supported by an independent design review. Additionally that Bloor Homes has an early dialogue with Uppingham Town Council about any planned changes to the site”.

As Lead Officer for the Plan, I will continue to keep readers up to date with developments.