Finding out about it
When Westminster Council receives a planning application they are supposed to notify those neighbours who they think may be affected by it, but this depends on the judgement of planning officers and not everyone who thinks they ought to have been informed gets a letter. Nonetheless, you can object to any planning application, whether or not you have received a letter.
The other ways to find out about local planning applications are keeping an eye out for “Yellow notices” on the street. But the best way of finding out is to look on the Council’s website. http://idoxpa.westminster.gov.uk/online-applications/. You can register online an receive email automatic updates of new applications and track and receive updates on the status of applications.
The website also allows you to view and download the details of those applications and provide your comments to the Council.
Making an objection
The way to object to a planning application is comment online or write to the Planning Department, either by post or by e-mail (If you are emailing or posting you should quote the planning application number shown on the Council’s letter to you or on the Council’s website). Any comments you send online, in writing or by email will be listed on the Council website alongside the planning application and supporting documents. Your contact details will not be published.
Your objection will have most effect if a number of people write in to object, but do not organise a petition; it will not carry any weight and is a waste of time. Also avoid using a ‘standard’ letter, objectors should use their own words. Objections will not carry the same weight if they are seen to have been written or produced in a standardised form.
Westminster always request comments within a time limit (usually within 21 days of notification), but in practice they will take into account any representations received before the application is actually determined. So it is not too late to comment provided a planning permission has not actually been issued. It is obviously best to make your views known as early as possible.
There is no restriction on what you can say about a planning application, but your Council will not publish or take account of any material which they think is libellous, racist or offensive. There is no point in putting things in your letter which are not relevant to planning, because by law the Council can only take into account the planning issues and must not allow themselves to be influenced by other considerations unless they really are relevant to planning.
It therefore makes sense when objecting to a planning application to concentrate on those aspects of a development which are likely to be unacceptable in terms of their visual impact, effect on the character of a neighbourhood, possible noise and disturbance (not construction), overlooking and loss of privacy. The likely effect of the development on the residential amenity of neighbours is clearly an important consideration. Westminster cannot refuse permission for a scheme because of construction noise but they can restrict the hours of work to reduce disturbance to residents and other sensitive neighbouring occupiers.
If the proposed development is in a designated Conservation Area or would affect the setting of a Listed Building, there may be further grounds of objection relating to the effect of the development on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area or on the setting of the particular Listed Building.
Westminster is one of the most over planned parts of the country with policy for just about everything. In any event, the effect of the development on the character of the neighbourhood remains a factor which may lead to the refusal of planning permission, so you should not hesitate to raise issues of density and possible over-development of the site as well as the adverse impact which the proposed development might have on the character of the neighbourhood or on the residential amenity of neighbours.
Design (including bulk and massing, detailing and materials, if these form part of the application) is recognised as an important factor in the acceptability of a development proposal. If you think the development looks ugly, then you should say so, especially if it is over-bearing, out-of-scale or out of character in terms of its appearance compared with existing development in the vicinity. As mentioned above, a higher standard of design is expected in a Conservation Area, or where it affects the setting of a Listed Building. Westminster is under a legal duty to have particular regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character and appearance of a Conservation Area. Similarly, a development which would adversely affect the setting of a Listed Building is unlikely to be acceptable.
Concerns about highway safety may also be raised, but it should be borne in mind that such issues are subject to careful technical examination by qualified engineers employed by the highway authority, and so objections based on road safety fears are unlikely to carry much weight unless it is also the independent view of Westminster’s own highway engineers that the development would adversely affect highway safety or the convenience of road users.
To summarise, the following are the grounds on which planning permission is most likely to be refused (although this list is not intended to be exhaustive) :
The following points, on the other hand will not be taken into account in deciding on the acceptability of the development in planning terms :
The aim of planning is to help ensure sustainable development and growth.
Planning decisions are never taken in a vacuum. The officers or councillors who determine a planning application do not just do so on a whim. They are required by law to determine such matters in accordance with “the City Plan”, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. There are several key policies and documents that planning applications in Westminster are determined by. These make up Westminster's development plan and include:
Westminster’s City Plan is the key policy document for determining planning applications in Westminster. As the most local and up-to-date policies, these should be looked at first, and take priority over Unitary Development Policies.
If you believe there is a risk that a planning application to which you object may be approved by a planning officer under delegated powers, you should contact your local Councillor and ask them to get the application referred to committee, so that it can be properly debated. This does not guarantee that the application will be dealt with in that way, but there is a good chance that it may be referred to committee in these circumstances.
As a general rule, the only safe way of ‘lobbying’ councillors is to write an identical letter to all members of the planning committee (or the sub-committee which is going to determine the application), and make it clear in the text of the letter that this is a letter which is being written to all the members. You cannot be sure that the councillors will actually read the letter or take any notice of it, but you will at least have communicated your views direct to councillors, rather than having them ‘filtered’ or summarised by officers in their committee report.
Attending the Planning Committee
Where a planning application is determined by Westminster Planning Sub-Committee you may attend the meeting. But Westminster does not allow anyone other than Councillors to speak or make representation.
Getting an application ‘called in’
If a planning application is extremely controversial and raises issues then there is a possibility that the Secretary of State may be persuaded to call-in the application for his own determination under s.77 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990. It is only very large developments, likely to have an impact over a wider area. The Secretary of State has a wide discretion as to whether or not a planning application should be called in, but such call-ins are now very rare. Mere strength of opposition is not enough to secure a call-in; it must be clearly shown that the potential impact of the development is likely to be felt over a very wide area, extending beyond the locality in which the site is situated. In other words the proposed development must be of ‘strategic’ importance.
Challenging a planning permission
If planning permission is granted, objectors have no right of appeal against that decision. There is only one exception to this. If there is a serious legal error in the Council’s decision, or in the way in which it was reached, a legal challenge can be brought before the High Court by way of an application for judicial review, seeking the quashing of the decision. However, the Court’s jurisdiction is strictly confined to dealing with an error of law; they will not ‘second guess’ the decision maker and substitute their own view as to the planning merits. If the decision to grant planning permission was lawful, the Court will not intervene, no matter how ‘bad’ the decision might appear to be in purely planning terms. An application for judicial review is not to be embarked upon lightly. The costs can be counted in many thousands of pounds, and the chances of success for the objectors are very slim.
Should you require further support from the Marylebone Association please contact Neil Wilson firstname.lastname@example.org