The Planning Process

The first hurdle is validation. It can take about a week for officers to determine whether the application is technically proficient and has the right supporting documentation.

If valid, it will be placed on the planning register. If you know the application number, or the Planning Portal reference number, it's progress can be tracked via the SMDC Planning Portal. Recent applications are shown on a Weekly List.

The application will be forwarded to neighbours and a variety of consultees including the local parish or town council and Staffordshire CC Highways. The council's countryside officers or building conservation officers may be consulted. If required, other organisations such as the Environment Agency, or the Staffs Wildlife Trust may also be consulted. Neighbours and consultees have four weeks to register an objection.

The vast majority of applications are dealt with by an individual officer. The officer will make a site visit, consider the consultee representations and prepare a delegated report for the development control manager who will sign and issue the decision.

Most full applications, including householder applications are dealt with within eight weeks from receipt of a valid application. Agricultural Notices or GPDO's will be dealt with in four weeks, major applications in twelve.

SMDC development control officers rarely delay determination - say pending receipt of further information. The application will either need to be withdrawn (and re-submitted at a later date) else it will be refused. See Editorial comment below

Major and more complex applications will be dealt with by committee. An application may be "called in" to committee by requesting the intervention of a councillor. However the applicant would first need to be made aware that the officer is minded to refuse the application.

Editorial Comment

The Staffordshire Moorlands Planning Regime

The Local Plan consists of a portfolio of Local Development Documents (LDDs) that set out the spatial planning strategy for the District. These documents include:

The Core Strategy (adopted 2014), a suite of action plans for Leek, Biddulph, Cheadle and the Churnet Valley, and a range of supplementary planning documents which provide guidance on a variety of matters such as design and residential amenity standards.

Most applications will be determined on the basis of policies set out in the Core Strategy.

The National Planning Policy Framework and Planning Practice Guidance may also be taken into consideration.

Culture

Development Control Officer's are generally not pro-active. They tend to be unwilling to discuss in any depth an application once submitted. The application will therefore run it's course to be approved, subject to conditions, else refused. This approach means that minor revisions, which could have been submitted prior to determination, have to be dealt with formally through subsequent discharge of conditions, variation of conditions or non-material amendment.

If the officer consider that the application cannot be supported, or is unlikely to be supported without changes, they are quite likely to simply issue the refusal notice without further ado. This approach effectively restricts the applicant's options: It being too late to withdraw the application (and re-submit a revised scheme). It would also be too late to request the intervention of a councillor.

The department's approach to planning appears to largely driven by funding, which in turn focuses attention on meeting targets - achieving 8 week decision periods for example. Put bluntly, departmental performance appears to be measured in terms of speed rather than the quality of outcomes for the applicant. This results in any number of problems including:

  1. 'Cut and paste' decision notices
  2. Over-conditioned decision notices
  3. Applications refused where minor amendments would suffice

In our view, leaving development plans in unresolved state simply results in further submissions, a greater workload for an under-resourced department, higher costs for the applicant and more enforcement issues further down the line.

Deterrent Pre-app Fees?

The main reasons given for charging are to provide a better final outcome by drawing attention to the particular issues which need to be addressed in the subsequent application.

However, the process also provides development control officers with an opportunity to deter proposals which they would wish to resist.

The decision to substantially raise the pre-app fees was made because of financial pressures and under-staffing. Since many small developers are likely to baulk at paying the new pre-app fees, the council's stated aim of improving outcomes and deterring ill thought out schemes, is unlikely to succeed.

SMDC Planning

Planning decisions in the Staffordshire Moorlands are determined by policy at two levels:

 

Pre-application Enquiries

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council is one of a growing number of Local Planning Authorities who make a charge for providing pre-application advice for non-householder applications. The fees for a meeting range from £563.20 to £1126.4 depending upon the scale of the development, and £281.60 to £563.20 for written advice only.

Householder pre-app enquiries are still free, but all other enquiries, including for example, change of use from agricultural to domestic, you will have to pay.

The council no longer provide access to a duty officer. If you wish to see a planning officer, you will need to make an appointment.

For further information, visit Pre-app Advice.