Resilience and tenacity are key qualities in the planning and development world, both for client and advisor, and a recent appeal in Welwyn Garden City illustrates the point, writes hgh Director, Mark Westcott.
The Broadwater Gardens scheme, approved at appeal in September 2022, is an ambitious redevelopment of the former University of Hertfordshire BioPark brownfield site, into 289 homes in blocks of up to nine storeys high.
We knew from the outset that it would be controversial, so my advice was always to do things ‘by the book’. What do I mean by ‘by the book’? Well there is no rule book in Planning per se, but rather a collection of ‘books’: the NPPF, PPG, Local Plans, SPGs, case law and, arguably most important, the Planner’s experience and judgement. What I meant was to approach the case coolly and rationally, going through all the steps that represent good practice.
A Strong Case
BioPark was a project where our client, HG Group, first came to us for due diligence advice about the Planning potential. We identified the underlying fundamentals (lack of 5 year land supply; accessible and sustainable location; brownfield land, out-of-date planning policies; lack of demand for the existing employment use; etc) which pointed to a strong case.
HG Group took our advice on assembling the right team for the project and undertaking three cycles of pre-application with Council officers, as well as public consultation. The pre-application dialogue generated a spirit of collaboration and mutual understanding, and respect for each other’s objectives. It involved refining the scheme design and identifying and addressing up front all the key issues: an approach which meant that we were left with no technical objections within just a few weeks after submission.
We advised the client to promote the site for allocation in the draft local plan. This caused delay, but it resulted in the principle of the development being accepted by the Examining Inspector.
Reversal of Fortunes
Despite all the careful groundwork, the application was refused by councillors in the face of a strong officer’s report in favour of the scheme. However, that careful groundwork paid dividends. Because of the relationship we had developed, the case officer largely endorsed our planning case in his evidence, and the appeal Inspector in turn accepted the evidence, very nearly point-for-point. Therefore, ‘doing it by the book’ succeeded – eventually. It took two and half years from start to finish, but it gave the clients a superb planning permission. Had corners been cut, there can be no doubt that the appeal case would have been weakened, perhaps fatally.
The shame is, that in situations like this, Planning Committee members feel so unconstrained in ignoring the recommendations of their officers and all the hard work that has gone into preparing the schemes that are presented to them.
Image: Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash