Most people go through life without any contact with planning. Consequently, most people are not in a position to know the legal process. This is a simplified account of the planning process in Stockport but is not intended as a legal description.
The first rule of planning is called “presumption of grant”. This means that every planning application must be granted unless solid planning reasons can be given to justify refusal. There is a shed load of policies which have to be taken into consideration when considering a planning application. These policies include the Council’s policies, which are in a document about two inches thick, which has had to be approved by the Secretary of State, together with several other smaller documents. In addition, there is the National Planning Policy Framework. TV dramas which show a Planning Committee deciding on an application because they don’t like it or have been lobbied is just that – fictional drama.
When an application for planning permission is submitted, it is first checked to ensure that there is sufficient information for the case to be decided. If anything is lacking, the application is not registered and the planners go back to the applicant to request the additional information. Only when full information is with the planners is the application registered. After this, it is put on the Council’s Weekly List of applications. This is the first time the Councillors know of the application. In Heald Green, the Ratepayers interrogate this List every week and put the Heald Green applications on the Ratepayers’ website. They remain there until the consultation period finishes.
When the application is registered, the planners write a consultation letter to every occupier of land which borders the site. This is the legal requirement. At the planners discretion, they may then write further letters, if they consider that the application will affect occupiers further away. Consultees have two weeks to lodge their support, objections or observations.
According to the size and importance of the application, it may be considered in one of three ways. Minor applications, such as extensions up to a point, are delegated to the Planning Officers to decide. The next step up in size is decided by the officers, unless there are four or more objections or a Councillor “calls up” the application. In this case the Planners write a report on the application and it is decided by the Cheadle Area Committee, which consists of 9 councillors from Heald Green, Cheadle and Gatley and Cheadle Hulme North. Councillors must not state how they will vote at the meeting until they are in the meeting. If they do so, they are excluded from the room throughout the case. Very large applications, housing estates and large stores etc, are considered by the Area Committee, which may make a recommendation but the decision is actually made by the Council’s Planning Committee. In all cases, the decision may be refuse, grant or grant with certain conditions. The Area Committee may also refer the application to the Council’s Planning Committee.
If an application is granted, that is the end of the matter unless someone seeks a Judicial Review. In this event, a court decides whether the correct legal process was followed in deciding to grant permission. If it decides that the process was correct, the permission stands. If it decides that the process was faulty, it does not change the permission to a refusal but instructs the council to consider the application again.
However, if an application is refused, the applicant may appeal. In this case the decision is made by a Planning Inspector, who works for the Secretary of State and based in Bristol. There are three ways that an appeal can be heard: by written submissions in which the applicant and the Council submit written papers setting out their cases; by an Informal Hearing in which the Inspector comes to Stockport and both sides state their cases, without the presence of legal representatives; by a full Public Inquiry at which the the Inspector presides over a formal hearing like a court case and both sides are represented by solicitors or barristers and can call witnesses who are taken through their evidence and cross examined. Again, the decision may be to refuse the application, grant the application or grant with conditions. Appeals can be expensive and Public Inquiry appeals can be exorbitant. The applicant and the objector may pay their own costs or the Inspector may award costs in proportion to either side as he or she sees fit.
Planning applications in the Greenbelt are decided by the Planning Committee but, if the Committee wishes to grant permission, the application has to be referred to the Secretary of State who has the power to call in the application for his decision.
Note: If an applicant withdraws an application at any stage before a decision is made, then the application progresses no further. Should an applicant decide to resurrect an application which has been withdrawn, then it is treated as a new application and the whole procedure starts again from the beginning.