What issues can and can’t be covered by planning objection

As part of the democratic application process we have a right to comment on the impact of a scheme, be it to offer support for the proposals or to object.  We are consulted either formally through a local news publication, by a site notice, through direct contact from a Council, or via an amenity or interest group that we may belong to. 

We’re passionate supporters of quality development, but that doesn’t prevent us from objecting to poor quality proposals where there is a genuine adverse impact on the environment and on people’s lives. What we won’t do however is pursue an objection that we feel has no ‘planning’ merit. 

This post looks at what issues can and can’t be covered by an objection, how this should be couched and what your timescale is for doing so.

What an objection should cover

So, you’ve been informed about an application that you are unhappy with and you believe will adversely affect you. What now?  

The first thing to remember is that an objection has to be relevant to ‘planning’.  There is no point raising issues that are irrelevant, because by law the Council can only take into account planning issues and cannot be influenced by other more subjective, financial, moralistic, or personal considerations. There is also little point in objecting to a scheme for the sake of it or because you’re annoyed with your neighbours or sceptical of a developer’s intentions. So make sure your statement or comment focuses just on the impact of the proposal. 

Goes without saying, but clearly do not submit statements that are offensive, libellous, racist, homophobic, defamatory, or discriminatory. Don’t make personal comments about the applicant, nor the officer’s ability to do their job, nor question any impropriety relating to the officer or possibly a Councillor’s behaviour.  Not only will the Council ignore this, but it will serve to undermine the credibility of any relevant planning issues. Plus it won’t be viewed favourably should the application end up at Committee. If you do have an aggrievement with the behaviour of an officer or Councillor, then there are separate procedures for pursuing this – don’t try and use the application process to highlight these. 

So let’s start by looking at what issues won’t be taken into account by an officer when dealing with an application. Whilst not exhaustive, these can comprise: the perceived effect on or loss of property value; private disputes between neighbours; the loss of a view (we don’t have a right to a private view, although the impact on public views are different); the impact of construction work; competition between rival businesses; restrictive covenants; ownership disputes over rights of way and emergency accesses; and party wall disputes.

But what you can comment on (again not exhaustive) are matters of policy non-compliance, as well as land use and design, impacts on heritage, landscape, ecology, amenity, and highways. So, for instance, your objection might consider: loss of daylight or sunlight; overlooking and loss of privacy; impacts on public views; the bulk, height, appearance and materials of a development; impacts on traffic, road access, parking and servicing; the effects of noise from new or increased levels of activity; the introduction of hazardous materials, air pollution, smells or odours; the impacts on the character and appearance of a Conservation area or setting of a listed building; the implications for protected landscapes; the loss of trees and adverse impacts on ecology; and, the potential loss of a valuable local service, community facility or employment use. 

Most Councils will have a list of the issues that they will and won’t consider as an objection. So if you are minded to comment take a look at your Authority’s website and see whether your concerns are pertinent.

How to object

Once you’ve decided to object, there are various ways of taking this forward. 

Firstly, you can submit a formal comment to the case officer dealing with the application – either directly via the officer’s email or through the Council’s website under the relevant application reference. Secondly, you can get your local ward Councillor on board, explain your concerns, and see if they will support you. Thirdly, if the case officer is minded to approve the application (contrary to your concerns), then engage with your Councillor to see if they are willing to support you in calling the application to Planning Committee. If this is successful, then submit a formal written comment to the Committee and go along and speak.

If an application is contentious and generates substantial opposition then collective action will be more powerful if well-coordinated and managed through local action or amenity groups. A large number of repetitive, individual objections will have a degree of collective persuasive power, but one relevant, well-conceived and powerfully argued objection can be just as effective. Petitions can work to influence politicians but won’t do much to persuade officers of the arguments against an application. There is also little point in using standardised objection letters, better to have separate statements that reflect individual concerns. And don’t ask all your national and international friends and families to object – officers and politicians see through this and will give short-shrift to comments from people that have no connection to the area. 

If your concerns are technical – loss of natural light, overshadowing, highways safety issues, air pollution, or noise concerns – it can help to take some advice from relevant professionals. This will determine whether or not there is a substantive technical objection to a proposal. If necessary you can appoint a consultant to explore these concerns, or push for the case officer to ask the applicant to address these. 

When to object

You have a period of 21 days following formal notification to respond to the publication of an application. If the objection is submitted via an online comments system or through direct email to the case officer, it usually takes 48 hours to upload for public viewing. If you formally write to the Council (by-post) this will take much longer to reach them and to be made publicly available. 

Don’t worry if you pick up on the application late in the day and the 21 day consultation period has ended. In reality, Councils will accept any comments supportive or otherwise and take them into account until just before an application is determined. 

However, it’s best not to wait too long to submit your comments. If they are minor in nature and resolvable through scheme refinements, then submit them as early as possible to enable the applicant to respond to and potentially improve the proposal. This will benefit everyone. If though, you are adamant that the application cannot be improved then don’t worry too much about an early objection. 

So, whilst we wouldn’t wish an unneighbourly development on anyone, should you find yourself confronted with proposals you really can’t live with, then the democratic process is there for your voice to be heard. Just make sure your objection is relevant, focused, well-evidenced, and timely, to give it the best prospects of having effect. 

Finally, if you are supportive of an application then do take the time to confirm this. The vast majority of comments to applications are negative in content, so supportive observations can be extremely helpful in balancing issues, and mitigating spurious objections. Let’s call out poor proposals but champion good development where it’s deserved.