Apologies for that this post is long overdue!
We started this increasingly overwhelming situation back in October 2019, when we first learnt that a solar farm was proposed to surround the village of Flowton. Since then two more solar farms were published, with another one on the way, one new standalone BESS published and approved, two new giant standalone BESS on the way, we picked up on the Bramford to Twinstead pylon campaign which has been ongoing for over a decade, and the new East Anglia GREEN pylon line to come into the north of and out south of Bramford substation.
The learning curve for everyone here has been immense! But it wasn’t until 8th February 2023 – two and half years after it started for us – that we finally got to the first major planning committee meeting for it!
(We’d had a Committee meeting a few months earlier for one of the standalone BESS but we didn’t feel like we learnt anything useful from it.)
Our unique circumstance as a cross-boundary application on this one meant that two different Planning Committees had to vote on the application. Officers recommended to approve the application with conditions.
On 8th Feb Babergh Councillors voted 6-5 to approve the application. But on 15th Feb Mid Suffolk Councillors voted 6-1 to refuse it. Overall, this means the application is refused, which was wonderful!
There was a difference between what we did in the few days before each meeting, and even on the day of the meeting. And whilst we can’t guarantee this is what the made difference, it was worth learning.
As a quick note though, this relates to local planning applications and not NSIPs.
We can object as the public as much as we want. Put in as detailed and technical reports as possible. Hire experts etc. The planning officer will still summarise all of that. (That doesn’t mean don’t do it – you must!) But, once the officers report is published any additional objections are submitted in full to the Councillors as late or supplementary papers. Late documents we submitted for the first meeting were discussed by Councillors, so even though the first meeting went against us we learnt that they were read. Once we spotted this opportunity we submitted an additional objection to critique the officers report for the second meeting for the sole purpose of it getting into the late papers. So, this was sent in full to all Councillors and it was mentioned in the meeting. A copy of what we wrote is below. We strongly feel this is your best opportunity to highlight any errors made by the planning officer, and include issues you think aren’t given sufficient weight/detail in the report. You get a limited amount of time to talk at the committee meeting, so this is a good opportunity to get in anything else in more detail.
“Councillor Briefing Note”
We were inspired to do this by the Solar Campaign Alliance, where some other groups had done something similar. Some were more technical, some were longer, some were shorter. But the idea was to summarise the objections and the relevant policies in the local development plan. We did a slightly different document for each Committee because some of the issues were different and so were the local plan policies. It is a lot of pages, but it is a surprisingly quick read.
We chose this format for a few reasons:
- landscape oriented pages are apparently easier to digest
- lots of white space makes reading feel quicker
- photos are always good
We sent this to all Planning Committee Councillors 2 days prior to the meeting – because late papers are sent 1 day before the meeting and we were advised that if you send it much earlier it will get forgotten or misplaced. It went as one email copying all Councillors in so they knew they all received it, and we also copied in our District Councillor.
Attend the Meeting!
Councillors at the second meeting were impressed to see “all” the Parish Councils. Technically that isn’t accurate (9 objected and only 3 were allowed to attend to speak), but most planning meetings have 1 Parish Councillor on their own if they attend at all. So to see 3 Parish Councils, 1 objector, and maybe a dozen public objectors sitting in the seats behind them was quite different.
If multiple residents wish to speak in objection it is better to have one joint speech which is read by one person. You won’t get 3 minutes each. You will get 3 minutes to share between you. This wastes valuable time.
Where you have multiple people speaking in objection who can all talk (i.e. objector and Parish Council), try to co-ordinate your speeches so that you don’t overlap and say the same things. You get 3 minutes each. At the second meeting one Parish Councillor wanted to focus on food and agricultural land, so it was purposefully excluded from our speech as an objector.
Note: the reference to 3 minutes for speeches varies by Council and it is important to find out who gets how much time to speak.
Writing your Speech
This is always tricky, because you don’t get a lot of time to talk, but you might have a lot to say! The Councillor Briefing Note and Late Paper sections above will help you narrow it down though.
When it comes to actually writing your speech please write lots of speeches and then combine them. For the two meetings I wrote 5 different speeches. Some suggestions of different speeches you might write include:
- speeches in different moods such as happy or sad – after the first meeting I was very angry at some of the misleading comments made by officers which was a perfect time to write a speech!
- from different perspectives, such as if you were a Parish Councillor, or even a District or County Councillor. Maybe even if you were the MP
- a boring and polite one (that was my first one!)
- a personal one saying exactly how it would affect you
- one on behalf of the entire community
- a very technical one (usually not a good idea to actually say that one though)
- one to criticise the planning department or officers report (if they are recommending approval of course!)
And PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Your final speech may be one of the ones above, or a blend of a few of them like mine was. Practice them all. Out loud. And to a timer.
There are a lot of ways to get around the limitations that are placed on objectors at a planning committee meeting. These are some of the observations we had from these first two meetings, and we share these in the hope that it may help you too.