The long-awaited application for redevelopment of the Station Pub site (Planning Reference 17/01622/1) is likely to come before the NHDC Planning Control Committee this month, on the 15th February, probably in the Spirella Building in Letchworth. If you plan to attend, please check on the NHDC website for confirmation that the application is on the agenda. The start time of the meeting will be 7:30pm, but this application will be one of potentially many all of which will be decided at this meeting.
It has taken a long time for the application to come before the Committee. I do not know why this is, but a frequent reason is because the negotiations between the developer and the officers for Section 106 Contributions have been drawn out.
When an application comes before the Committee the members will have visited the site and read all the associated paperwork, including the objections and plans. Particular attention will be given to the responses from the statutory consultees, especially Herts Highways and Knebworth Parish Council. Committee members will rely on the report of the planning officer for guidance on which policies are relevant and to what extent the application complies with them. This is the job of the committee, to decide whether or not the officer has, in his professional capacity, missed any valid planning ground (i.e. breach of policy) on which the application might be refused.
In the meeting, the planning officer involved will introduce his report and summarize the main findings, including his recommendation. If this is to refuse the application, it is very unlikely the Committee will go against his recommendation. However, if the recommendation is to grant, it will need to have some fairly compelling reasons why. The objectors will have to provide these compelling reasons, all in a speech lasting no longer than five minutes.
As the local ward member I, or my fellow councillor, may speak in support of the objector for a further five minutes. The applicant is also allowed to speak for this amount of time, to rebut any of the arguments put forward by the objectors. After the speeches, the committee may ask of the speakers about their comments.
The committee will then debate the application until one of them proposes a motion to refuse the application or to grant it, possibly with additional conditions to those recommended in the report. If the motion is to grant, and the vote is passed, the applicant is free to proceed with construction. No appeal is possible in this event.
If the motion is to refuse, and it is passed, the applicant has up to six months to appeal to the Planning Inspector. Or he has the option to submit a new application, presumably somewhat amended to take account of the reason for refusal.
Members of the Planning Control Committee are not professional planners. They are elected District Council members. They are heavily dependent on guidance from planning professionals to make their decisions. Planning law is complex, and even the council’s own planning officers sometimes need to call in specialist advice.
For a high-stakes application such as this one, it is extremely risky to dispense with the use of a planning professional, ideally a barrister, to present the case to the Committee. The Committee, in order to refuse, need to be convinced that professional advice from the officers is mistaken. It is very hard for someone without professional planning expertise to make this case convincingly in my experience. Planning decisions are not about what is desirable, they are about what is compliant with planning policy, and planning case law.
The Examination in Public (‘EiP’) of the Local Plan continues to take place at the Icknield Centre, Icknield Way, Letchworth. Please see the page of the NHDC Website for latest updates of the sessions. For Knebworth residents, possibly the most significant date will be the 26th February, where the site allocation around Knebworth will be examined. Getting to the centre early is advisable as parking is limited. Sessions start promptly at 9:00am. Hearings are scheduled to continue until 22nd March, after which the Inspector, Simon Berkeley BA MA MRTPI will prepare his report to the Secretary of State.