South Somerset Planning debacle – as we said

The front page article in the August edition of The Leveller tells the story of a planning team falling apart. This piece received short shrift from South Somerset District Council (SSDC). They described our analysis as politically motivated and an attempt to undermine them. They also noted that “the performance of the planning team is within all nationally
recognised Government standards.

In short it was a complete denial of what local people have been telling us right across South Somerset. What our article did not mention was that SSDC has introduced new processes for validating planning applications.

This has resulted in a submission from Clive Miller Associates of Langport. Their submission incorporates the views of other planning agents from across South Somerset too. The submission was given to the director responsible for the planning team, Netta Meadows, the CEO of SSDC and all elected members. The Leveller® has also obtained a copy, though not we stress, from Clive Miller Associates.

The submission criticises many aspects of the planning regime at SSDC. It would only be fair to note that they also acknowledge that some of the difficulties stem from central government as much as from SSDC. However this chorus of dissent gives even more evidence for the facts as expressed in our article.

Here below are a few examples that give a flavour of the comments made by the various planning agents included in the submission. The themes will be familiar. Lack of consultation, inability to take advice from professionals and a lack of understanding. All feature alongside comments that suggest the planning team is falling apart:

In the light of our own experiences and in reflection of the various serious concerns raised here we request on behalf of all the named consultancies and their staff that the new validation procedures be put immediately into abeyance pending a full and open review of the validation process”

“To carry out a limited public and internal review and consultation exercise during the pandemic cannot possibly be considered to be a fair and proper way of running a planning process

“The new Planning Application Validation Document seems to have been developed with no consultation or notice being taken of the comments many of us Agents made at the Agents From held on the 2nd October last year where this document was discussed at length.”

During consultations with Agents, concerns were raised and seem to have been generally disregarded.

Another of the major problems I have with the Planners is their reluctance to visit site, they seem to be relying on us taking photo’s or Google Earth, this has lead on several occasions to Planning Officers and particularly the Conservation Officers making spurious comments on applications that blatantly show that they have not seen the building or have in fact looked at the wrong building.

I think I’m correct in saying that without exception all of my applications have overrun their published Decision date, what is more concerning is that with many of my applications the officers appear to change each week and with those few I have had correspondence with, mainly through email as I can never speak to anyone, blame their pressure of work on the delays.”

The problem is not the staff on the ground at the sharp end but, I believe, with the Senior Leadership Team, Chief Executive, Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holder who do not engage with Agents and in my experience have treated us with disdain. We want a fit for purpose Department and system.”

I understand that an already depleted Planning Team was further reduced by the secondment of Jane Green to work on the new Validation System design.”

“We deplore the creation of a system which prejudices against householders submitting minor proposals when in a fair society, they should be receiving assistance from their council officers”

“Since the so called ‘transition’ process was carried out it has become an absolute nightmare to deal with and, from what I have heard about staff leaving, is going to get even worse. It is a disgrace and is ‘unfit for purpose’”

Quod erat demonstrandum.

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