Planning in the Time of Covid-19: Why Site Visits Are Essential

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Arthur Breens, Chair of Kingsdown Residents’ Association, argues that site visits are key to an accurate visualisation of a development’s mass and scale, and therefore fully informed decision-making at Planning Committee.

Rathgar Avenue: before and after scale models made by residents and shown to Committee members on site

My late father said, as a senior design draughtsman/designer with Rolls Royce, “That being able to properly understand drawings was a gift limited to the very few”.  “Understanding”, was the gift to see in the mind’s eye a three-dimensional vision from the close study of two-dimensional drawings. He was talking about a cohort of engineers who used drawings on a daily basis. My experience teaching Advanced GNVQ Construction, Built Environment and Land Surveying and setting and editing questions for a National Examination Board was the same. Further, I have built scale models on a commercial basis for two local churches to support applications to the diocese to approve internal modifications. Both churches saw the model rather than drawings as a perfect way of communicating their proposals to their congregations and to the approving authority.

In 2015 an application in Rathgar Avenue, West Ealing was turned down by the Planning Committee. At the site visit members were privy to an accurate scale model of the planned development and surrounding buildings, to a toilet paper outline of its footprint and to a fishing rod showing the proposal’s height; all provided by potentially affected neighbours.  The planning officer in charge furtively checked the scale model with a rule for accuracy. She appeared surprised. Planning Committee members entered homes nearby by invitation and became fully aware of the detrimental nature of the proposal.

Fully informed by the site visit and with an excellent speech by Cllr. Binda Rai, the Planning Committee turned the application down. The Chair Shital Manro summed up the proceedings by complaining why such a poor application had ever been brought to the committee in the first instance.

The applicant appealed. The application was again refused, this time by the inspector from the Planning Inspectorate.

I understand that the Planning Committee due on 20 May 2020 will proceed without the edification of site visits by committee members to the seven proposed sites. This is wrong in every respect as it removes the safeguards of mis-interpretation of drawings by layfolk and demeans the intellectual quality of the whole process by keeping committee members “in the dark”. 

My wife’s beef farming relatives would never buy livestock without attending the market. However desperate they were, even after the foot and mouth epidemic, they would always attend a market and would never buy “in the dark”. That is what we are asking our Planning Committee to do.  Please don’t let Coronavirus lead us sleep walking into this abuse of process.

This Planning Committee should not go ahead unless site visits with committee members and public engagement at 2m are incorporated into the processIn the interests of good decision making, correct and democratic procedures must be reinstated even in these difficult times. Thank you for reading this. I look forward to your urgent reply.