About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Central Local Area Partnership – Planning & Licensing Meeting. of 4th November 2014, by Nigel Slack.

The meeting was chaired by Neale Gibson (Labour) who is also chair of the Central LAP. Presentations were given by Maria Duffy, Head of Planning and Steve Lonnia, Head of Licensing. The meeting was to look at the role of planning and licensing particularly within the city centre and with respect to the night time economy.

The presentations essentially outlined the powers, or more accurately the lack of powers, available to local authorities to restrict or manage development within the city centre, and particularly with respect to licensing of the night time economy. Power seems vested in the developers and public objections are often up against professional legal types when arguing against any proposed changes.

The bigger problem, that became apparent as the meetings presentations and discussions went on, was the seeming ability for developers to simply suggest benefits and positive impacts but the need for objectors to be able to prove and evidence the negative impacts of proposals. Add to that the power of big money when it comes to employing legal types to defend their position and their power to threaten appeals, that can cost councils big money to defend and you see the problem.

There is potentially one light in the dark and that is the councils Unitary Development Plan and the 'Night Time Uses Policy' that it contains. These two documents allow the council, through it's planning department to draw up guidelines that it considers necessary to good planning and development within the city. It can attempt to protect the mix of 'uses' within areas and also specify conditions that can be applied concerning night time use, such as opening hours, live music, etc.

Once again however the plan must be able to resist the test of reasonableness that developers will try to undermine. Suggesting that the UDP is too restrictive or unreasonable means that they can appeal decisions to the 'planning inspectors' who can overturn a council decision at the stroke of a pen and even award legal costs against the council. As a result councils are timid about declining developments and it would seem that any suggestion of an appeal will enable a proposal to find favour. That, at least, is how it seems.

Is there a solution to this? Yes, the proper devolution of planning powers to the councils. Allowing councils to develop and enforce their own planning guidelines, based on local difference and local needs and, more importantly, wants without interference from outside watchdogs would protect local diversity both between cities and towns but also within the different areas of cities and towns. After all, as Cambridge is different to Sheffield both in landscape and culture, so Tinsley is different to the city centre within Sheffield.

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