bradford council palanning and urban regeneration work placement report
Gavin Fowler – 05003047 – Placement Essay
Student Planning Officer
Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council
June 2007 – June 2008
Table of contents
- acknowledgments .3
- Introduction to Bradford Council .4
- My role as a planning officer .5
- Day to day tasks
- FUL applications
- The Pre-app Service
- The Area planning panel .9
- Listed buildings and conservation areas .10
- Greenbelts and the countryside policy .12
- Site visits and Health and safety. .13
- What has the placement done for me .13
I would like to thank Bradford Metropolitan Borough council for giving me the opportunity to learn and gain a positive experience from my time at the planning office. The experience I have gained has been invaluable and has definitely helped me to decide along a future career path. My time there has given me the confidence and ability to address situations that I would not have necessary felt comfortable addressing before.
Special thanks –
A special thanks to Amin Ibrar, who has been a good friend and colleague at the planning office. Amin shows great care and dedication in his work and has helped me out numerous problems during the year as well as introducing me to various computer systems, polices and taking me out for site visits.
A special thanks to the administration staff in the planning office for making my year there a memorable one.
Introduction to Bradford Metropolitan Council
Bradford council is the fourth largest council in the UK, with a total governing area stretching over 141 square miles of both urban and rural settings. The metropolitan district is divided into areas referred to as ‘wards’ which range from 10,000 to 15,000 voters. There are 30 electoral wards and each ward elects three councillors. The population of the district is approximately 467,000 and has rural/urban split of 60/40.
Bradford is a very diverse city with over 64 languages spoken. Bradford Council has a ‘2020 vision’ for the district with key corporate initiatives including: -
- Equality legislation
- Equalities issues for staff
- Bradford I – New IT system to maximise resources and promote communications between businesses.
My year at the planning department has given me the opportunity to look into future initiatives for sustainable development and growth, through policy making, service delivery and employment practices.
My role as a planning officer
My role within the planning office was two fold: -
- To decide on planning applications, appeals and change of uses in terms of households and small businesses.
- To give sound planning advice about regulations, polices and plans and if necessary make appointments with members of the public and discuss concerns they may have.
This is a preview of the whole essay
There was a team of 12 planning officers in the office working on applications ranging from smaller householder applications wanting to add a dormer or rear extension to the developments on ‘Broadway’ now taking place in Bradford city centre.
Day to day tasks –
The FUL applications were householder applications from general residents living in and around Bradford. These were legal documents with the project proposal and address, any notification letters, 3 copies of the plans and the target date of the file.
A FUL householder application had between 8 and 12 weeks to its completion date depending on the scale of the project, and cost £140. As planning officers we had to manage our time effectively and: -
- Take Site visit photographs
- Complete a site visit checklist
- check plans against relevant council policies
- Produce an officer report
- Ask for any necessary amendments
- Come to a decision on the application
- Have the file checked by a supervisor
Once we received the file on our desk we had to check over the plans and make sure there were no obvious problems, this task often included having a lengthy telephone conversation or meeting with an architect to amend plans to policy. The Bradford Unitary Development Plan (UDP) was one of the most important documents we used in our day to day work; it included the broader policy framework, not the specific rules. The Bradford Councils House Extensions Policy and Dormer windows Policy were supplementary guidance books with plans and policies specific to the planning applications; they included specific policies on the depths of windows, allowed distances to other dwellings etc.
Once the plans were considered acceptable a site visit would take place, site visits were arranged for a full day on which I would visit around 15 – 20 sites. On site I was required to record a checklist at each site, making notes on windows that may be overlooked, taking into account the setting and materials of the area, and checking the extension would not adversely affect the residential amenity of any of the neighbouring dwellings.
When any planning application is submitted to the planning office they have a legal obligation to notify any neighbouring dwellings of the proposal and give them 21 days to give any representations. This process was completed by the administration staff before the application was handed to a planning officer. this process was legal and therefore we had to check every neighbour notification letter had been sent to all neighbouring dwellings, if this was not the case, new letters would have to be sent and the target date would be missed.
After a site visit was made to the dwelling any representations from any member of the public had to be addressed and considered. The usual complaints ranged from concerns over blocking light and rights of way to disputes over the ownership of land. These matters had to be addressed in the officer report that had to be completed for every application.
Whilst the majority of complaints received were on good grounds and were issues that might have a severe impact on their amenity, some of the complaints were racist and abusive, to my surprise, this was not uncommon.
Once a decision was reached on the application, the file would be handed to the relevant supervisor for the area the dwelling was in and signed off. If the decision was positive and the application granted, then the file would be scanned and stored electronically for public viewing online on the councils website. If the decision was to refuse permission, then the client has the chance to appeal to the area planning panel. If permission was refused then the client had to the opportunity to amend the application and submit it again for free.
One thing that surprised me at my time in the planning department was the amount of freedom and trust you were given, to manage your own time and files effectively and to reach the correct outcome.
Pre – App service
This was a free service provided by the council in order to give members of the public advice on planning projects that may be undertaken in the near future. Although this service was free to use, priority was given to the FUL applications. This was a fairly useful service on the council’s part as it gave a clear idea of just what people wanted to build and where. the pre-apps usually had around 12 weeks for completion.
Within the first few hours of being in the office we were introduced to the pre –app files and given the easier ones to reply to, by the time my placement year was almost finished I had progressed to much more complex matters regarding careful knowledge of polices the permitted development rights.
Permitted Development (PD) rights 1995
Every dwelling in the UK has a certain amount of cubic content in extension or development without the need for planning permission. In some cases there was a very fine line between what was permitted development and what would require permission. The normal amount of cubic content a terraced dwelling would be allowed is 50m³ where as a semi detached dwelling with larger grounds and also detached dwellings were both allowed up to 70m³.
The location and nature of the area also had an impact on the development rights of the dwelling. Generally PD rights seemed to cause more harm than good in Bradford. There was a keen initiative in the office to promote good standards of design and construction with uniform extensions and dormers. Unfortunately, PD rights hindered this initiative as they allowed dormer windows and extensions to be constructed in materials that did not match the host dwelling or any of the surrounding dwellings.
The Area Planning Panel
Every four weeks the Area Planning Panel would meet at Bradford Town Hall to preside over planning matters that could not be resolved under delegated powers, through planning officer. Whilst the applications that normally were presented here were larger proposals such as halls of residence or car showrooms, smaller applications such as FUL applications were often presented when there were clear cut conflicts of interest.
The planning panel was made up of city councillors from various political parties. There was always a minimum of 6 councillors on the planning panel, including a chair and a planning lawyer. During the year in the planning department 2 of my applications had to be presented before the planning panel.
- 52 Speeton Avenue; Single storey side and rear extension
This application was for the construction of a single story extension to the side and rear of the dwelling, which was a 1930s semi detached dwelling with a detached roof constructed of natural stone with concrete render and a concrete tiled roof. Next to the dwelling and adjacent to the proposal site there was a detached, 1930s bungalow. The bungalow objected to the planning application on the basis that the proposed development would overshadow and overlook private areas. After site visits and subsequent conversations with both parties involved, my decision was that the construction would not affect the neighbouring dwelling, and therefore a grant of permission was given, due to the intervention of a city councillor
on behalf of the objector, the application had to go to panel. Their outcome ruled in favour of the council and the extension was given the grant of permission after 16 weeks.
- Westleigh House – Construction of loft extension and dormer window.
This application was the longest application I had during my time at the council, as it took 22 weeks for completion. The dwellings on one side of the host dwelling were all bungalows whilst on the other side they were 2 storey semi – detached dwellings. Although the application complied with all relevant council polices and so had to given the grant of permission, a councillor again, intervened. The application was eventually refused at the planning panel due to the effect it may have had on the neighbouring dwellings. Although it went to planning panel with my recommendation for approval it was deemed that ‘the extension would have too greater impact on the residential amenity of one or more of the surrounding dwellings’. The impact of overshadowing however, as was the reason for refusal was wrong, as the dwelling was much lower than the surrounding dwellings. The reason it was refused at panel was due to the architect not submitting a ground level diagram of the site to show this fact.
Listed buildings and Conservation areas
Bradford has many buildings from around the period of the industrial revolution and other dwellings in the surrounding area is pre – war housing, with recent new developments as the government pushes for more sustainable housing. Dwellings can be ‘graded’ as a measure of their historical and architectural interest. A building could be grade I, grade II or grade II*.
The higher the grade the more important the dwelling and this generally meant the more unlucky the owner was as if any works had to be done on the dwelling. Lots of different permissions would have to be granted alongside the FUL application, including a listed building application, a historical report and a building regulations inspection all had to be completed before ay works could be assessed in terms of permissions.
Generally, listed dwellings were harder to gain permission for and most of the clients were unaware of the restrictions placed on the dwelling. A normal everyday addition to your home such as a satellite dish would require permission if the dwelling you were adding it to was listed.
Applications were received on a weekly basis regarding large derelict mills which would be converted into flats or rented accommodation. Although as student planners we did not get the opportunity to work on such projects, the work involved due to the fact that nearly all of the mills were at least grade II, they required a lot of legal work and amendments to comply with the strict
regulations enforced upon these types of buildings.
Conservation areas were areas of special architectural or historical interest. They were preserved for their character and appearance which was normally open planned. The council put a lot of emphasis on any planning application that was submitted that was with a conservation zone.
One such zone was ‘Manningham Mills’. In this area there was a collection of old mill buildings that had been granted permission for a change of use to residential dwellings and would be converted. The conservation area specifications required the developer to amend the plans to change the proposed white UPVC double glazed windows to sliding sash windows more commonly found in buildings of that age.
Greenbelts and the countryside policy
In the Bradford district there is a general presumption against inappropriate developments within the green belt, and a requirement that developments do not harm the distinctive identity of Bradford’s countryside. The council would only support developments that demonstrated that they did not interfere with the character and appearance of the greenbelt, and only if the facilities were essential with no other possibilities. Policies GB1-6 in the councils UDP was designed to prohibit any unnecessary and unwanted development within the greenbelt.
It was difficult to assess just what ‘inappropriate’ developments meant, with the policy being so broad. The majority of applications were for summer houses or conservatories, the majority of which were rejected. Wheras conversions of old barns to dwellings it seemed were promoted only if the dwellings original footprint was not being increased. In general, there was prejudice against dwellings taking up any more green belt designated land.
Site visits and Health and safety
As mentioned earlier with the often heavy workload site visits were made on a weekly basis around Bradford city and the smaller town such as Bingley and ilkley. One thing that surprised me is just how diverse the landscape around Bradford is; within a few miles of the city centre there is greenbelt land. The important thing to remember on site was that although you were out of the office, you were representing the council, and impression was everything. If you sounded confident then you could generally give sound advice and when under pressure this wasn’t always easy. My language skills have improved thanks to the close contact with clients and dialogue that was necessary to avoid refusals were only small changes were needed in most cases. A long time was spent in dialogue with architects I order to make small adjustments to proposals. Often the only changes that were needed were smaller window dimensions or materials to match the surrounding dwellings.
Whilst on site there was a requirement to wear reflective clothing and hard hats whenever on an active site. Most of the sites we visited the work was yet to be given permission.
What has the placement done for me?
During my placement year, I fell that I have not only learned valuable time management and organisational skills, I have leaned people skills. Confidence has always been one of major flaws, before my placement year I could not address large groups of people with the confidence I needed to get my point across, after the placement, I feel now that this would not be an issue as I have been given the opportunity throughout my placement to present to audiences.
I feel that I have not only progressed academically but personally also. I feel I have matured over the course of the year and I have returned to university with a strong mental attitude. Working in planning has given me a new direction in life where before there didn’t seem to be any.
My time on placement has allowed me to look at my achievements so far and consider what move to make after I complete my final year at the university.
On completion of my degree at the University of Bradford I intend to do an Ma in town planning and take up a position as a planning officer until I have enough experience and knowledge to go onto bigger prospects. Development and planning regulation are of interest to me; my dissertation will reflect my interests.
- City of Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council – Replacement Unitary Development Plan, adopted October 2005, Bradford.
- Supplementary planning guidance – House extensions policy
- Dormer windows Policy