|Friar's Place: The Council Responds|
Extremely long forum thread garners extremely long retort
Hello all, your new ActonW3.com editor here. If you're a regular to this site, you may have noticed the behemoth thread sitting in our forum regarding planning permission in Friars Place Lane. Legends say that the thread was started in 1203 as part of the Fourth Crusade, but our records show it was actually only in August, which certainly surprised me.
Any road, the council has asked that we "print" an extremely comprehensive response from them to this thread, and I acquiesced, as anything I don't have to type out myself is fine by me. Maybe this will produce and even longer thread which will produce an even longer response - eventually sucking the entire internet into a black hole of words. Here it is:
Friars Place Application
In light of significant local interest, I would like to take this opportunity to address your readers on some issues relating to the recently withdrawn planning application to change the use of 53-55 Friars Place in Acton.
An application was submitted to the council to change the use of these two houses into supported residential accommodation for vulnerable women in the community, including their children. Many of the women this accommodation was planned for would have been escaping from domestic violence.
The applicant, Diversity in Care Ltd, withdrew their application on Monday 3 October, advising that a different location would be sought. The applicant felt that it would be difficult to help vulnerable women at the Friars Place address in the face of such a high level of local opposition.
A range of allegations has been posted on ActonW3.com regarding the council’s role in this application and, although the application has been withdrawn, I would like to address the main issues.
I apologise in advance for the length of this article, but feel that it is important to address each issue properly.
The applicant and the Council’s involvement - The council must consider all applications received and treat all applications fairly regardless of who the applicant is, their status, or history. Applications are assessed on their planning merits only. Any other approach would be unlawful.
The planning process is separate from other parts of the council, although other parts of the council are consulted as part of the process. Whether or not the council would use a particular external service or property does not ultimately determine a planning decision.
When looking at the Friars Place application, planning officers decided that the proposed use would comply with current planning policies, so it was recommended that the Planning Committee approve it.
Information that the applicant did not wish to be publicly available –Information about the proposed use was provided in a separate letter. Diversity in Care Ltd requested that this information not be made public to protect some of the vulnerable residents. The risk was that women and children escaping domestic violence could be at greater risk if the location of their accommodation was known.
The council placed the letter on the main file but did not publish the letter on the council’s website while considered what the appropriate process would be in such circumstances.
Consultation and neighbour-notification started on Tuesday 14 June. As part of ongoing discussions with the applicant, the council requested further information about the use and as a result the description of the proposal was changed and made clearer. Revised information about the use (over-riding the initial letter) was posted on the council’s website and on Thursday 28 July a new round of consultation was carried out. In the light of the local interest, the notification was extended to more residents. There was no attempt by the Council to hide information.
Quality of Drawings submitted – There is no legal requirement to submit floor plans for a change-of-use application. It is correct that metric scale is technically required when plans are necessary, but the council considers that in this case, since the plans were not strictly required, the imperial measurement drawings were adequate. It would, therefore, have been inappropriate and unreasonable for the council to reject the application on that ground.
Validity of the Certificate of Ownership - Around the time that the item was placed on the agenda for 7th September Planning Committee meeting, objectors challenged the validity of the planning application in relation to the service of notice (Certificate B) on the owners of the site.
Council officers provided clarification to objectors and there was some confusion arising from the submission of two ownership certificates (the first certificate had been found irregular at the time of submission, and the second rectified some errors). Advice was also sought from the council’s legal officer. As information and advice unfolded, it was found that there were some discrepancies when comparing the information given in the second certificate with the Land Registry details.
The planning process does not require a Land Registry search, but where any discrepancies are brought to the council’s attention, an opportunity is given for rectification, and this was under discussion with the applicant.
However, in light of the discrepancy and to avoid the situation that a decision might not be taken on the planning merits of the proposal alone, on Monday 5 September the Head of Planning Services, in communication with the council’s senior legal officer, made the decision to withdraw the item from consideration at that Planning Committee meeting.
Information from the applicant’s website relating to a nursery building - The applicant’s submissions did not include proposals for use of outbuildings. Accordingly, and quite correctly, this did not form part of the council’s assessment of the application and was, therefore, not mentioned anywhere in the council report. Should the applicant have wanted to use the outbuildings as a nursery at a later date, they would have had to submit a separate application.
Goldsmith Estate Covenant - This covenant is not relevant to the planning assessment in this case.
Works to Trees - Around the beginning of October, residents reported works to trees including tree felling on the site. Council officers investigated and found that the trees on the site are not protected and, therefore, works were not unauthorised.
Note from Mike Harling, Ealing Council Social Services - Angela Edmondson submitted this note as part of a bundle of documentation showing support and commendation for her, and her application. The note did not specifically refer to the Friars Place application, but Ms Edmondson submitted it to show that council officers said they had a good experience of working with her previously. This is similar to architects submitting references and commendations.
Applicants are allowed to submit whatever documentation they like as part of the planning process. These documents can help support an application, and often help with setting a context. I understand that readers might find this strange especially as the note was not well written and referred to a previous application. Despite this, I would like to assure your readers that the ultimate decision would have been made on planning considerations.
Composition of the Planning Committee - A rota of councillors is used to determine the composition of the Planning Committee on any given date. The Planning Committee sits independently from the council and members are legally obliged to act in a non-partis
Lastly, I would urge anyone with any genuine concerns about this, and any other, application to contact the council directly with their concerns, especially if they think they are in possession of any proof of wrongdoing by a council officer.
November 9, 2011