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3 Secrets to Writing Better Planning Objections

Have you ever been taught how to write an objection to a planning application? No? Not many people ever are.

In fact, most people don’t even know how to submit a planning objection, let alone write one.

But to help you we’ve gone out there and we’ve learnt how.

We’ve already covered how to submit a planning objection, so here we’re going to share 3 secrets we’ve discovered on how to write one that will give your objection a better chance of being considered in the planning decision process.

How We Learnt

When it comes to writing a planning objection one of the first things that goes through your mind is “what do I write”. Whilst you might have plenty to say, putting pen to paper can leave you feeling speechless.

In our quest to learn how to write a planning objection we’ve not just read hundreds of planning objections. We’ve also spoken to various organisations, politicians, planning consultants, and even a few people from district planning departments. There are common themes amongst the advice we’ve been given, and there are patterns we’ve noticed in the objections that are written by the experts. Once we show you the framework the experts follow, you’ll soon start to notice it too.

So let’s start with Secret #1…

Secret #1 – Planning Policy

The Local Planning Authority (LPA) do not get to choose what planning applications they have to decide on. If a developer wants to build something in their area that requires planning permission, then the LPA are required to process it through to a decision. It is not the Council that puts in the application for a new housing estate for example. It is the developer that has chosen that land and wants to build on it. The LPA are required by law to process the application.

On top of that the decisions are not made based on logic, emotion, or the commonly referred common sense. We’ve seen so many people complain about planning decisions being made because the “council are heartless,” “the council are greedy,” and “the council have no common sense”.

So let’s say this again. Planning decisions are not made on common sense.

So what are planning decisions made on? This seemingly little known secret is that planning decisions are made based on PLANNING POLICY.

And planning policy and common sense are, sadly, not the same thing.

So what is planning policy?

Planning policy is a set of guidelines and rules that are pre-written by various levels of authority. The guidelines are usually flexible so that they can be applied in different scenarios, and in many instances are open to different interpretation.

The UK Government has a set of guidelines called the National Planning Policy Framework (or NPPF), as well as Planning Practice Guidance.

The Babergh & Mid Suffolk District Councils also have their own planning policy which a bit more specific to the local area. You may have heard about the new “Joint Local Plan” for example. You can find current Council planning policy documents here.

Your local town or village may even have something called a “Neighbourhood Plan”.

Then there are other topic focused policies and laws that feed into the general planning policy guidelines. For example there is the Noise Policy Statement for England, or the Mid Suffolk Strategic Flood Risk Management Plan.

All of these various hierarchies and types of planning policy can be called upon to make a decision on a planning application.

So, even if a Planning Officer or Committee personally want to refuse a planning application (because of common sense for example), they cannot refuse it unless there are sufficient enough cases of planning policy that the application would breach versus the benefits that the scheme would bring. A planning decision is a balancing act. 20 new houses bring more benefit than 5 trees, as much as we like trees and even if they do have Tree Protection Orders on them, so to refuse a planning application in that example there would need to be more serious negative impacts raised. When there are significant breaches and little benefit this gives them grounds for refusal.

When you write a planning objection you need to argue and give them those grounds for refusal.

Oh, and another bit of information… the LPA must take the information submitted in the application at face value. If the developer says the sky is green and the grass is pink then the LPA have to accept that. Although anyone can, and if they disagree with anything the developer claims they should, question the claim but need to back it up with evidence to counter it.

To summarise, planning applications are decided based on a balancing act of planning policy. Nice and simple so far.

Secret #2 – What Topics to Consider

So now you know how planning decisions are made, you might be thinking you can write about anything if you can just find some policy or law that backs it up.

Not quite.

Whilst the potential list of topics for an objection letter is almost endless, there are common topics that arise most often in refusal reasons. And there are also some topics which are not relevant to the decision making process according to planning policy. If your objection focuses on the things that are not relevant to planning policy your objection makes little impact.

We recommend a cup of coffee at this point. OK, let’s continue.

Topics to Include

Visual Impact & Design – This could from a simple house extension where the design doesn’t fit in with the neighbouring area, or it may be from a larger development where it would fill in an open space that would intrude into the character of the countryside landscape.

Overlooking & Loss of Privacy – If a new estate backs onto your garden and a window proposed would overlook you sitting in your regularly used hot tub then that would be a loss of privacy. But if there is no window and no one would be able to see into your garden then there is little argument. Remember the planning decision is a balancing act. Yes the development overlooks your property, but no one would actually be watching you.

Overbearing Impact & Loss of Light – All development has some level of overbearing impact. The important thing to argue is if it is harmful in it’s impact. The same with the loss of light. Most development will include some form of loss of light, it just depends on whether it pushes say an existing low level of light to an unacceptably low level.

Noise, Disturbance & Smells – As with the above, most development has some level of noise, disturbance, and smell. The case is whether it is significant compared to the current situation, and even harmful.

Trees – Removing trees as part of planning application are common concerns, as well as building too close to tree root areas which could harm the tree in the long term.

Ecology & Biodiversity – Certain species have a protected status. And it is possible that developers are not aware of protected species in the area or important habitats, or they play down their significance. If you are aware of species in the area and are concerned then you should mention them, and be specific.

Flooding – This is a very legitimate concern to raise. If you are aware of local flooding in the area and the risk of the development on future flooding then say so. Equally if the developers flood report (if there is one) is missing information then make sure you be the one to fill them in on the full picture.

Highway Safety – The LPAs Highway Authority will usually be consulted on all developments as the standards for highway safety can be quite technical and complex. Simply saying you are worried about the increase in traffic is insufficient in this topic as it requires firm evidence. However if you have a concern it may be worth speaking to a highways consultant about your concern (the LPAs Highway Authority is a highways consultant if you want to discuss it with them).

Effect on Conservation Area – If the application site is within a conservation area then the LPA has a duty to protect or enhance it. If you are concerned the development would have a harmful impact on the conservation area then it is worth including in your objection.

Effect on Listed Buildings & Heritage Assets – Listed buildings include both the building itself and its setting. For example if an area has a large number of listed farmhouses, then the setting of the area is likely to be that of agricultural land. If a large non-agricultural development would intrude into that setting then it harms the listed building and is a worthy point to raise. But if it is a new single building similar in style and design to the current listed farmhouses then its impact is likely to not be harmful.

Material Considerations – This is the catch-all for all other reasons. But it must be relevant to planning policy and any local development plans. For example if a large development is cited on greenfield land but the development plan states housing should first be placed on brownfield sites and there is a brownfield site available nearby then it can be raised. Equally the developer may raise a material consideration in their proposal. If you believe that it is not relevant to the proposal then you can clearly explain why.

Topics Not To Include

Certain matters are not relevant to the decision making process, and they will only distract from the relevant points.

Loss of Property Value – Whilst many people, even planning officers and committees, will sympathise with the loss of value of your home and land, it is not a reason for refusing planning permission. Sorry.

Private Disputes – If you and your neighbour are having private issues this is not the time or place to air your grievances or talk about how awful they are.

Loss of a Private View – Whilst there are policies designed to protect public views, there is no right to a private view from your home or land. Loss of a public view is a legitimate planning consideration. A private one is not.

Impact of Construction Work – Noise and disturbance during construction work is a given. However some LPAs will attach planning conditions to the grant of planning applications that limit the hours of construction work for example. However, if the construction process fundamentally changes the area in a way that may cause a long term issue that cannot be resolved through a planning condition (such as widespread flooding for example) then it is a consideration worth raising.

Building Regulations – Many matters are controlled by regulations such as fire safety, drainage, sewerage, etc. In most cases these matters are not enough to substantiate a refusal, unless you can demonstrate that the design of the development is so deficient that it can not be dealt with through normal building regulations.

Competition Between Firms – The planning system does not take into consideration the variety of local business types. Ransomes Europark is a good example. How many takeaways and restaurants are there to choose from? Yeah we’ve lost count too. Just because there are already 100 places serving food in the area, doesn’t mean another restaurant can’t be granted permission too. UNLESS the local plan sets out limits for a particular type of use in a particular area. For example to keep a high street designated for predominantly retail use there may be a policy that a maximum of 40% non-retail businesses may be permitted in that area.

Land Ownership, Disputes Over Rights of Way, Restrictive Covenants – In general the LPA are not concerned with these types of matters. Scarily, a developer is allowed to make a planning application on land that they do not own. So long that is they follow the correct procedure in notifying the land owner that an application has been made. Resolving the dispute is down to the developer and the land owner, not the LPA. In these instances, the LPA may grant planning application with a condition that a legal agreement is reached before construction begins. But if you’re the land owner you need to raise that issue or the LPA won’t know about it.

Morals & Ethics – Arguing that the developer is only doing this for profit is not a valid reason for refusing an application. Neither is bringing into question the developers morals, ethics, or business setup. Holding companies and subsidiaries are a common irritant for people, but are not illegal ways to structure a business. Suspected tax fraud is a matter for HMRC, not the planning system.

Wow! That was quite a lot of take in. Did you notice that it’s all a bit open to interpretation too? And that some topics float between “include” and “do not include” depending on the situation? Feel free to take a break (maybe with a nice walk in the fresh countryside air) and read that again if you feel a headache coming on.

Secret #3 – Objection Framework

So let’s quickly recap.

We’ve learnt that planning decision are made based on planning policy. Not logic, emotion, or sadly common sense.

We’ve also learnt that there are certain topics that are relevant to planning policy, and some things that aren’t. Like why if you work at Ransomes Europark that it’s easier to just take lunch with you. And also that depending on the level of impact some topics may actually not be relevant and some topics actually may be relevant.

So now you know what to say, let’s learn the final secret that ties it all together…. what order do you put things in? How do the experts write out their objections?

When you are trying to get your point across it is important to put that information into a logical pattern that takes the reader through a logical thought process. Makes sense right? You want the reader to have the right information in the right order. There is no point going backwards and forwards trying to make a point because both you and the reader will get confused. And you’ll likely miss important details.

So what is that order? We’ve read hundreds of planning objections and, in most cases, the experts follow a simple pattern. Or framework. We’re going to reveal that framework to you now. Along with tips we’ve received from the planning consultants and campaign organisations/groups we’ve spoken to. As a member of the public you get to be a little more creative in your objection than the professionals can be. We’ve also given a guideline of how big that section should be for each topic you write about. This is a guideline, not a rule. Extra notes are written in italics.

Opening of Objection Letter

Start by addressing the assigned planning officer and the planning application reference. For example…

Dear Ms Curtis,

Ref: DC/21/00060 & DC/20/05896 – Planning Application for a Solar Farm and Battery Storage Unit on land south of Somersham and north of Burstall.

I am writing to set out my OBJECTION to the planning application above. <– actually put OBJECTION in capitals

Nice and easy start. Now we move on to the first topic you have chosen.

Topic 1

Title

Give your objection topic a title. For example…

Impact on Landscape

Harm to Listed Building

Situation Now

This is how the majority of arguments start, and it is very important. Describe and explain how the situation is now. Be descriptive. Give dates and examples. Be vulnerable and show feeling about what is important. Be passionate. Don’t be afraid to include photos as evidence. Use your local knowledge and personal experience. But don’t be rude or angry. Keep calm and respectful. Try to be concise. We recommend this section take up around 40-50% of the length of the chosen topic.

Developer Proposal

Next explain what the developer is proposing specifically in relation to the concern and situation you explained above. This should clearly describe the change that would be made. Again be specific and include page references and quotes if need be. We recommend this section take up around 25-30% of the chosen topic.

Planning Policy

State a relevant planning policy that supports the argument you want to make. It can be from Government level (NPPF), District Level (Local Plan), or Town/Village Level (Neighbourhood Plan), or it can be from another more specific planning policy such as noise or flooding like we mentioned earlier. You can include one policy or a selection of policies, but we recommend this section take up 10-20% of the chosen topic.

Conclusion

Briefly state how the proposal is therefore contrary or in breach of planning policy. At this point it may be worth suggesting a planning condition that would be reasonable, but this is optional and really only in circumstances where you can think of an acceptable alternative. Let’s use the cutting down of a few trees as an example…

Due to the visual importance of the trees on the landscape and the ecological benefits they provide, we find that removing them is contrary to planning policy. However, should the committee be minded to grant permission, we ask that a planning condition be imposed so that the trees are retained, or replaced in the same fashion and number but set back from the development at a safe distance.

This section should be about 5-10% of the chosen topic.

Additional Topics

For an individual public objection, we recommend a maximum of three topics. So it is worth noting down your objections and choosing the three topics which you feel the most strongly about. If you household has two adults and you have six topics you can split them to three each for example. And you would simply list them one after the other following the same framework as set out above. i.e. Opening -> Topic 1 -> Topic 2 -> Topic 3 -> Closing.

Closing

When you close the objection it is worth restating that you are objecting to the proposal under the reasons of x y z (your topic titles) and that the planning application should be refused.

In summary the application would have a significant negative impact on the visual amenity, it would cause harm to listed buildings, and it would be detrimental to an important landmark of trees, and so is contrary to planning policy. I ask that it be refused permission.

Yours Sincerely,

Full name & Address <– this is crucial. Planning objections are refused if they do not include your full name and address. Also, only have one person sign the objection. One objection signed by one person counts as one objection. One objection signed by many people counts as one objection. It is better to write the same letter with a different name at the bottom of each, than have multiple people sign one letter.

If you’d like to see an example of a planning objection we wrote check out this post here.

Conclusion

Phew! That was a lot to read. Imagine having to write all of that. Glad that wasn’t my job…oh wait!

So now you’ve learnt the 3 secrets to writing better planning objections.

You know that planning decisions are made based on planning policy. You know what topics to spend your time talking about, and what not. And you know what order to write your concern in so that it is explained clearly.

The next step? Write your objection letter. We’ve got one last bonus tip for you.

BONUS TIP

Post In Notes. (Other brands are available).
1) Write one concern on one note, and use as many notes as you wish/need.
2) Next, group up notes where a concern is linked to another concern. For example loss of habitat for an owl and cutting down of some trees may be related. i.e. the owl lives in the trees, or perches there for hunting every day.
3) Decide which groups are most important to you, picking 5 or 6.
4) Write an outline for each of the concerns.
5) Find relevant planning policy to support your argument. Where you are unable to find planning policy references for a concern you should probably discard that concern.
6) Choose your strongest 3 concerns and finalise your objection for each topic.
7) Finish your letter and submit it to the LPA.

And that is it. You’ve learnt the 3 secrets about writing a planning objection – that planning decisions are made based on planning policy, that there are certain topics to include and not to include, and what they are, and a framework for setting out your arguments in a logical process. And a bonus tip for creating your objection letter.

For details on how to submit your objection check out this post here. And good luck writing your objection letters.

3 thoughts on “3 Secrets to Writing Better Planning Objections”

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