3 Apr 2007

Hi guys. As entertaining and all as I like to think it they might be, I can understand how some of you might not manage to read the Dispatch from cover to cover (my own wife, for example, would rather be stung by bees).

 

If you happen to be in this minority, I encourage you to at least read the bit where I’m thinking of standing in the next general election on a ‘planning’ ticket. Yep, you read that correctly. And you might find my letter to Minister Dick Roche, the text of which I’ve included, of some interest to you as well.

I’m saying all this because my opening piece this week isn’t as flippant as I usually like it to be.

So here goes.

When I suggested in recent weeks that people send me in details of their funny experiences dealing with local authorities on things like pre-planning meetings, validations, requests for information, and the like, I had genuinely hoped to get some material we could all have a bit of a laugh at.

As it happens, the emails and phone calls I’ve been receiving are too serious to be lighthearted about. I can’t go through them all, but many might be described as variations on the following themes:

  • Extraordinary delays (in one case up to six months) and sometimes outright refusal by planning authority personnel to attend pre-planning consultations – something they are obliged to do.
  • Inaccurate recording of issues discussed at pre-planning consultations.
  • Items which were agreed and minuted at pre-planning consultations being completely disregarded during the planning application process.
  • Planning applications being accepted by local authorities ‘over the counter’ only to be returned to the applicant marked ‘invalid’ weeks later (in one case seven weeks later).
  • Planning applications being invalidated for trivial reasons: for example, missing north arrows; failure to include a telephone number on one drawing in spite of it appearing on all the others; a validation clerk who mistook a ‘grid line’ for a ‘section marker’ and insisted that the missing section be supplied to the council, and so on.
  • Difficult-to-justify requests for information: it seems that almost all applications for dwellings outside urban areas now require the following as a matter of routine a) a drawing showing the location and layout of septic tanks on neighbouring properties (how are you supposed to do that? Dig up your neighbour’s garden?) and b) a ‘continuous/context elevation’ showing how the proposed building will appear when compared to its neighbours (as you can imagine, sometimes outside of towns your nearest neighbour might be so far away it’s impossible to draw his house at even the smallest scale on the biggest piece of paper you've got. Besides, this sort of condition discriminates against architects like me who have such bad eyesight we can’t do drawings that tiny.)
  • Requests for information from local authorities which are, in fact, instructions to the architect to change his or her design (they tend to read as follows ‘you are requested to submit additional information to the planning authority indicating how the overall height of the structure has been altered by removing the top two stories and how dormer windows have been added to make your office building appear more vernacular… ’)
    Requests by local authorities for ‘Clarifications’ on information previously received by them as a result for a ‘request for information’ but which are, in effect, just another ‘request for information’ in disguise.
  • Local authorities requesting that changes be made to applications outside of the powers available to them to make such requests described in the regulations.
  • Commentary on design issues by local authority personnel who have no backgrond whatsoever nor who display any aptitute for matters of architecture and design.
  • Applications involving protected structures, developments in ACAs, Special Areas of Conservation, etc. costing fortunes in consultants’ fees.
  • Inconsistencies in decision making (ie. an extension is permitted to the rear of No 41 X Street, but an identical extension to No 42 is refused).

In addition to all of these, one architect told me about an almost funny thing which had happened to him lately. As most of you know, when you lodge a planning application with a council you’re obliged to submit six sets of all your drawings. If we’re talking about a large development, the bundle of drawings can, as you might imagine, become quite bulky. Well, in the case in questions, shortly after the application was lodged the planning authority called the architect and asked for TWENTY more copies of all - ALL- of his drawings on what was quite large scheme. Not wanting to upset the planning authority he did was he was told.

But then the architect discovered that the Local Authority had been asked to provide copies of his drawings to outside parties – possible objectors and people of that kind. Rather than make the copies themselves, which they are supposed to do, the Local Authority just lazily passed the request along to the architect and let him deal with it because they just couldn't be bothered..

However, my last comment on the matter is somethign I think we should be all concerned about. I have been receiving emails and chatting to some  conscientious planners and others working within the Local Authority system, who have been passing information on to me which is so disturbing I’d almost prefer not to know about at all. For example, in one mid-to-large sized council it would appear that the situation within the planning department is so chaotic with so many people working under the most incredible stress (stress induced by work colleagues, not necessarily through workload)  that I simply don’t know how to comment. I can only hope that these local authority officials (as well as those in similar situations working in other local authorities) seek each other out, if only to find comfort in the fact that they aren’t alone in their predicament.

So to everyone having a hard time of it in the nasty atmosphere which seems to characterize all planning offices, I hope these cheer you up. I meant to include this one before Paddy’s Day and then I forgot:

 http://www.maniacworld.com/walk_home_drunk.htm

And try this personality test and tell me if it’s not great: http://imagini.net/friends/

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