There are lots of ways that you can have your say on planning proposals. There are opportunities to get involved in:
- Planning applications, including appeals and breaches
- Local Plans; and
- Neighbourhood Plans.
The High Weald AONB partnership is not a local planning authority and the responsibility for planning decisions remains with the 15 County, Borough and District Councils. We have included some advice below on how and when you can best engage with these decisions. More detailed information for your local authority is contained in their Statement of Community Involvement.
We would also encourage you to support the AONB by including references to the High Weald AONB Management Plan and other guidance in all your representations. Key links are below:
You can also refer to information about the AONB landscape character in your area – including ancient woodland, sandstone outcrops, historic field boundaries, historic routeways, and wildflower meadows – using our Parish Information Maps.
folder Download information about your Parish
Webinar: Learn more about the planning system
In June 2021 the High Weald AONB team and CPRE Sussex held a free webinar on how to respond to planning applications. You can view the event recording and accompanying presentations on the CPRE Sussex website.
Finding out about developments
You may be contacted initially by a developer who is carrying out pre-application consultation. This may be in the form of a leaflet drop, social media and/or press releases. Sometimes a public exhibition of the plans is held locally. You may also hear about these proposals from other members of the public or community groups who oppose the plans.
After the planning application has been made, the local planning authority may post notices near the site and/or write letters to adjoining owners and occupiers to the proposed development, inviting comments. Larger developments will also be advertised in a local newspaper.
Some local authorities offer an email alert service where you can sign up to receiving notifications of any planning applications within a certain area. In the High Weald AONB the following local authorities offer this service:
- Mid Sussex District Council
- Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
- Tandridge District Council
- Hastings Borough Council
- Ashford Borough Council
The details of the proposals, including drawings and supporting reports, will be available on the council's website and/or for inspection at the local council offices. Note that during the Covid-19 lockdown physical inspection of documents at council offices is generally not possible but you can contact your local authority to see if other arrangements can be made.
When and how to submit your views
There will be a limited amount of time in which to send comments to the local planning office, usually 21 days. It is very important to meet any deadline or your submission may not be taken into account. However, if you miss the deadline, you should still submit your comments as local authorities may still consider your submissions if the application hasn’t been determined.
Most local authorities encourage representations to be made using their online forms as this means your comments will go directly on to the application file. However, you can also make representations by email or letter. Note that during the Covid-19 lockdown many local authorities are finding it difficult to process paper letters as their post rooms and scanning facilities may not be open or running at normal capacity. All representations will be public information and displayed on the local authority website, although they will try to redact any personal information such as email addresses.
How decisions are made
Most planning applications will be determined by planning officers under ‘delegated powers’. However larger or more contentious applications may be determined by a Planning Committee, where elected District/Borough Councillors will consider the officer’s report which will make recommendations on the decision to be made.
You can attend Planning Committee meetings or sometimes watch them remotely on webcast. In many cases members of the public can speak briefly to ensure that the Committee is aware of their views. There are normally requirements to register the intention to speak prior to the meeting and limits on the number of people who can speak, so check the arrangements with your local authority. Note that during the Covid-19 lockdown many local authorities have increased their delegated powers and/or are holding Planning Committees as virtual meetings on Skype, Zoom or other similar platforms.
After the decision
In England, it is not possible for a third party to appeal against a local planning authority's decision. For example, if your neighbour was granted permission to build an extension you could not appeal against it, even if you objected to the application at an earlier stage of the process.
If permission is refused or granted with conditions, and an appeal is made by the applicant against that decision, you can make your views known as part of the appeal process. There are also legal routes available for anyone to challenge the lawfulness of a decision (e.g. a judicial review). We would suggest seeking specific legal advice in this regard.
Appeals for applications in England are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate. Information on how to take part in an appeal is available on the Planning Inspectorate website.
A planning breach usually occurs when:
- A development that requires planning permission is undertaken without the permission being granted, either because the planning application was refused or was never applied for
- A development that has been given permission subject to conditions breaks one or more of those conditions.
A planning breach in itself is not illegal and the council will often permit a retrospective application where planning permission has not been sought in advance. However, if the breach involves a previously rejected development (or the retrospective application fails) the council can issue an enforcement notice.
In considering any enforcement action, the decisive issue for the local planning authority should be whether the breach of control would unacceptably affect public amenity or the existing use of land and buildings meriting protection in the public interest.
You can report potential breaches to your local authority, and such correspondence is normally kept confidential.
What is a Local Plan?
Local authorities are required to produce a Local Plan for their area at least every five years. This will establish the need for development in the area and where this should be accommodated together with any infrastructure requirements and policies governing how development should be carried out. Sometimes there will be a strategic plan which sets out broad principles and a separate detailed plan which will allocate sites and have detailed policies, but often these will be combined into one Plan.
Consultation on Local Plans
Whilst local authorities may choose to engage the public and other bodies informally at the early stage of plan preparation and throughout the process, there are two statutory stages where the local authority must engage with the public. These are:
- Regulation 18 Consultation: where the local authority will consult on a draft plan which may include different options; and
- Regulation 19 Consultation: where the local authority will consult on the version of the plan it wishes to submit for examination.
In the case of the Regulation 18 stage, comments made will be considered by the local authority and should inform the Regulation 19 version.
At Regulation 19 stage the representations will be forwarded to the Planning Inspector to be considered as part of the examination. At this stage, comments can only be made on the ‘soundness’ and legal compliance of the Plan and the local authority will provide a form to encourage you to stick to these matters.
Examination of Local Plans
If you have objected to the Local Plan at Regulation 19 stage you will have been asked to say if you want to appear at the Examination. If you have said ‘yes’ you will be contacted by the Programme Officer, who administers examinations on behalf of the Inspector. They will let you know how and when you can appear and/or make further statements. They will encourage you to join with others who have similar concerns to avoid repetition during the examination.
What are Neighbourhood Plans?
Neighbourhood Plans have the same legal status as Local Plans but are required to be in general conformity with them. They can provide more locally-distinctive policies and may also allocate sites. The area that the Neighbourhood Plan will cover is proposed by the parish council to the local planning authority, and they will consult on it for six weeks prior to designation. This can be the whole or part of a parish.
Neighbourhood Plans are produced by the community so are a really good opportunity to get involved in planning for your local area. In areas with a parish council (most of the AONB) they will be prepared by that parish council, but the detailed work is often delegated to a sub-group which includes local volunteers.
We have produced a range of guidance to help groups preparing neighbourhood plans - learn more and download here.
Consultation on Neighbourhood Plans
Because Neighbourhood Plans are led by the community there are usually informal consultation events, especially to help draft the vision and objectives of the plan and sometimes to gauge views on potential sites. There are two formal public consultation stages:
- Regulation 14 Consultation: where the parish council will consult for at least six weeks on its draft plan; and
- Regulation 16 Consultation; where the local authority will consult for a further six weeks on the plan that has been submitted to them for examination.
As with Local Plans, responses to the first consultation are used to inform the version of the plan submitted for examination, and the responses to the second consultation are forwarded to the Examiner to consider as part of the examination.
Examination of Neighbourhood Plans
The Examiner is an independent person, usually a qualified Town Planner, who is appointed by the local authority in consultation with the parish council. Most Neighbourhood Plan examinations are carried out on the basis of written representations, but sometimes the Examiner will hold a Hearing if he or she wants to question those who have made representations. The examination considers whether the plan has met the ‘basic conditions’ and other legal requirements.
If the Examiner recommends that the Neighbourhood Plan has met the basic conditions and legal requirements (normally subject to some modifications) then the local authority will arrange a referendum of all the people registered to vote in the Neighbourhood Plan area. This will be carried out in the same way as elections for local councillors and MPs and are sometimes combined with these elections. If more than 50% of those who vote agree with the Neighbourhood Plan then the local authority must ‘make’ the plan part of the statutory Development Plan for the area. This means that they must have regard to it when making decisions on planning applications. Note that in the current Covid-19 situation all elections including Neighbourhood Plan referendums, have been deferred to May 2021.