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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 13/03/2007
Surrey County Council's Highways Department Input into Development Control Decisions



APPENDIX C
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

ENVIRONMENT AND LEISURE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
13TH MARCH 2007

Title:
SURREY COUNTY COUNCIL’S HIGHWAYS DEPARTMENT INPUT INTO DEVELOPMENT CONTROL DECISIONS
[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is to review the information gathered as part of the Committee’s review of Surrey County Council Highways Department’s input into Development Control Decisions.

This report makes recommendations on the issues that might be included in the Committee’s final report to the Executive on this subject.

Environmental implications:

Part of the review will consider how Surrey County Council’s policy and processes impact on environmental issues within Waverley.

Social / community implications:

The review will examine the social and community implications of Surrey’s Highway and Transportation Policy.

E-Government implications:

Part of the review will be to consider any E-Government implications from Surrey Highways input into Waverley’s planning processes.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no direct resource and legal implications associated with this report other than the officer time involved in the review. The cost and any legal implications that emerge from the review will be included as part of the final report.

Background and Introduction
1. Waverley Borough Council is statutorily obliged to consult the Highway Authority (Surrey County Council) with regard to planning applications received. The Transportation Development Control Department (TDC) of Surrey County Council is the Department responsible for advising Waverley Borough Council (and the other 10 District Planning Authorities) about the transportation implications of applications for planning permission.

2. Waverley receives approximately 3,000 planning applications each year. Of these about 10% are considered by Surrey County Council in greater detail; with the remaining 90% requiring no comment from the TDC with regard to transportation implications.

3. Waverley is obliged to take into account any advice the Highway Authority may give as a result of the consultation. The Highway Authority will only recommend the refusal of an application where it can demonstrate that real harm will occur. It should be noted that it is only advice and that Waverley considers this in conjunction with other non-highway related matters. Waverley then comes to a decision regarding the planning application, having taken all factors into account.

4. The Committee has previously received a Surrey County Council Local Committee (Waverley) report on SCC Transportation Considerations in the Planning Process: The Role of the Highway Authority as a Consultee to the Planning Authority. The document gives valuable background information regarding the consultation process as well as details of the effects that the restructuring in Surrey County Council has had on the services offered to Waverley.

5. The assistance given by Mike Green from Surrey County Council in the preparation of this review is very much appreciated.

Surrey’s current policy and procedures on highways issues

6. Surrey County Council have issued a Transportation Development Control Good Practice Guide. The guide is divided into three sections, Planning Applications, Planning and Highway Agreements, and Vehicle Operator’s Licences; the Planning Applications section being relevant to this review. The Guide has been previously circulated and is available in the Members’ Room for future reference.

7. The guide covers the following:

Preplanning and planning application assessment
Compliance with current transport policy
Compatibility with transport infrastructure
Developer improvements
Mitigation of cumulative transport impacts
Vehicle parking
Promoting non-car travel
Highway safety
Highway encroachment and Improvement Lines
Response to Local and County Planning Authorities
Other Planning Matters
a. Consistent Planning Advice
b. Public Representations and Non-transport Impacts
c. Attending District Planning Committees
d. Planning Refusals and Appeals
Planning Good Practice Guidelines

The Consultation Process

8. An officer from Surrey Highways Authority visits Waverley once a week to inspect all planning applications that have been received. Copies are taken of those applications where transportation issues may have to be considered so that they can be reviewed in more depth. The in-depth review can vary from:

i. A site visit to check that sight lines can be achieved; to
ii. A full transport assessment (to be provided by the applicant), in order to agree with the applicant problems identified and then negotiate any possible solutions to overcome a transportation objection.

9. The Highways Authority is requested to respond to Waverley within 21 days. They achieve this in the majority of cases – the performance measure is 81%. The applications that usually take more than the 21-day response time are where the planning application is complex and the Highways Authority requires more time to consider the issues and potential hazards.

10. For each of the planning applications reviewed checks are made against the following criteria:

Current national, regional, county and local transport policy.
Whether the movement of people and vehicles from developments can fit onto Surrey’s roads. If not officers request developers carry out road or transport improvements to enable their developments.
The need to mitigate the cumulative transport impacts of developments, to combat year on year reliance on Surrey’s existing roads and transport systems.
The acceptability of the parking arrangements against county standards.
That developments encourage walking, cycling and use of public transport.
That new road accesses, junctions and new roads are safe and developments have acceptable vehicle turning and servicing facilities.
That developments do not occupy necessary parts of Surrey’s roads or affect land reserved for road improvements.

11. All applications that have been reviewed in depth are formally replied to Waverley and will indicate:

i. Whether there is no objection;
ii. The recommendation of the imposition of conditions on any permission granted;
iii. The recommendation that the proposals should be refused on specific grounds given.

12. Surrey’s advice rarely deals with locations of development, but they may for major schemes such as East Street, and generally they do not deal with environmental issues.

13. For example, they will comment on safety issues regarding the number of movements and suggest improvements such as road widening, but would not comment on any environmental issues surrounding it. It is the responsibility of Waverley to consider the environmental issues.

14. Once officers have checked an application they respond to the Waverley. If invited, officers attend Waverley’s planning committees to explain the County’s position on large developments. Where the County recommends the local planning authority should refuse a planning application, officers will defend that refusal at planning appeal.

How Surrey’s policy and procedures affect recommendations and decisions made within Waverley

15. The County Council’s response to planning applications is intended to comment on transportation issues. The County Council’s response on planning matters does not include any considerations other than direct transportation issues, such as impact on residential amenity or the impact of traffic on the character of roads. These matters are beyond the County Council’s remit as the local highway authority responding to consultations on planning applications.

16. Surrey County Council’s contributions are important in the consideration of Town Planning – the Planning Authority will usually follow the advice of the Highways Authority and would usually only depart from their advice if their was strong evidence, for example, regarding parking spaces on new developments.

17. Highways Department also consider safety factors, not just inconvenience. If the Highways Department state that a junction would be dangerous, it would be imprudent for the Planning department to disregard the advice.

18. Waverley’s Planning Officers also consider public objections to development proposals and all other aspects of the planning application. The advice given by the County Council is used along with all other considerations to make a recommendation to Committee or to make a delegated decision whether to accept or reject the application.

Waverley’s Input into Surrey County Council’s highways policy?

19. In the past Waverley has been given the opportunity by Surrey County Council to comment on their draft policies.

20. Appended to the Local Plan are:
21. There are different arms of the Highways Services at the County:

1 Highways Development Control Officers 2 Highways Network 22. The two Teams meet for regular liaison meetings. In the past regular meetings took place with Waverley, but this has lapsed since Surrey’s reorganisation. The Highways Network Team has agreed that liaison meetings should be set up with Waverley again. This will enable joined up thinking with regard to these matters.

23. When we start to receive contributions regarding minor developments (see proposed policy above) there will be close liaison with the Highways Network Team, so that we can contribute to the discussion on the distribution of the funding.

Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 16th January 2007

24. Mike Green, West Team Manager, Transportation Development Control team from Surrey County Council (SCC) attended the meeting as part of the Committee’s in-depth review.

25. Mr Green gave a presentation explaining that good partnership working was key to the success of the Highways input into development control decisions. He said that Surrey had had a good relationship with Waverley over the last twenty-five years and referred to the SCC Local Committee report of 13th October (see Annexe 1). He described the process through which advice was provided to Waverley and made the following key points:

The Highways authority has an obligation to provide advice and will only recommend refusal where it can demonstrate ‘real harm’, or where there is harm to policy and if an application is potentially contrary to policy;
It was explained that this was not an exact science, and even though there is technical guidance upon which decisions are based as to whether or not something constitutes harm, the grey area between deciding what is actually harmful is a lot wider that people might think;
Whatever the size of the development, if it was felt that safety would be compromised in terms of highways issues in an application, SCC would recommend refusal;
Surrey County Council would expect a full transportation assessment to be provided by the applicant for large developments. They use as a guide a threshold of 80 units;
The Senior Transportation Development Control Officer of Surrey County Council meets with Waverley officers every Friday to discuss applications and to take away for further review those with perceived material impact;
Although the Highways Department had lost a third of staff over last two years, they believe that they are still delivering an acceptable service, and they measure their performance against other Highway Authorities in the South East;
Surrey County Council Highways Department work closely with Waverley in respect of securing section 106 agreement benefits through the provision of the Town and Country Planning Act;
In respect of Planning Appeals, Surrey County Council will defend any recommendations they make with regard to the original application; and
The cumulative impact of individual applications was a key issue – a formula was being developed to address small development and its cumulative impact.

26. The Chairman invited questions from the Committee, which included the following summary of key questions:

Q. If Members have a particular concern could they attend the weekly planning meeting referred to?

A. This would not be practical because at that time the Senior Transportation Development Control Officer would not have had the opportunity to make a site visit and so would not be able to give cogent advice at that time, but would have no objection to Members contacting him directly about any application he was dealing with.

Q. Which sites does Surrey County Council visit?

A. The Senior Transportation Control Development Officer or a member of his team visits all sites for those applications he takes, unless he has carried out a site inspection there recently. The team also makes use of computer applications such as Google Earth and GIS mapping systems.

Q. It is important to take more note of what residents are saying, given that the volume of traffic has increased in some areas, it is quite possible that applications are granted where they should not be.

A. There are a few ‘rare’ cases where oversights have been made, but so far the system has ensured these are put right – in the context of the volume of applications received these are relatively few.

Q. Every planning application Waverley receives is logged on to its website so would it be possible to add a box to the database to mark when Phil Townsend has reviewed the cases? Would it also be possible to split the weekly meeting in half so that Members could attend for the first part and the usual business continue in the second part?

A. Officers said that the suggested changes would require new resources which were not currently available. Mr Green said again
that Members were welcome to approach Transportation Control Development Team directly.

Q. What can Members do to gather evidence to help in taking decisions, avoiding a scattergun approach?

A. SCC regularly receive information from members of the public, Councillors and the police, and feels that the current system works adequately. Mike Green explained that Phil Townsend only covered Waverley for half of his time.

Q. Could officers circulate the response to the informal question (made at the beginning of the committee meeting) to all Committee Members?

A. Yes

Q. Are Parish Councils’ views taken on board?

A. Yes, the process is responsive to comments along the way.

Q. Can we have full details of the discussion at the meeting and can CDs be produced of the discussion?

A. Officers said there would be a full report of the discussion, and that the webcast recording would be available on line in due course.

Q. How joined up is thinking within SCC? e.g. safe routes to school, off street parking etc?

A. Members were reassured that there was consideration of all relevant policies within the Borough and Surrey CC policies and plans around highway safety, parking provision etc.

Q. We are all aiming for quality of planning decisions so we need to pick up on any ‘oversights.’

A. This was agreed and targeting of cases was rational but there was always room for improvement.

The Chairman then invited questions from other Members who had attended the meeting.

Q. Members are concerned about the ‘drip drip’ cumulative effect of smaller planning applications.

A. This is a problem but there has not been a large increase in population in the Borough, rather than a change of demand. For instance, in future there may be new communities e.g. proposals for Dunsfold, which are a new feature.

Q. Members have appreciated the session and it has given an understanding of Surrey’s constraints. It would be helpful to have a short paragraph of explanation on the planning application instead of the standard ‘no observations’.

A. On large applications, background information exists and in general, for most smaller applications a standard paragraph suffices.

Conclusion

27. The Committee made the following observations:

The Committee welcomed Mr Green’s background papers and attendance and convey committee’s thanks for explaining more fully the context and constraints on Surrey Highways;
Requests the Executive to propose to Surrey County Council that a brief explanation be given of the background to their decisions on a greater number of applications;
Surrey should be urged to revive meetings with Waverley officers where future highways improvements are taken into account.
Planning Department to report on the proposed section 106 tariff to the ELOS meeting in March;
Publicise that Ward members are able to contact Surrey’s Senior Transportation Development Control Officer (currently Phil Townsend) by email phone letter etc to discuss detailed position if necessary. Phil Townsend is based at County Hall and can be contacted by telephone (020 8541 7423) or by email (p.townsend@surreycc.gov.uk);
Surrey officers give more weight to ward members local knowledge and the local knowledge of any objectors to an application and look at mechanisms for enabling Members to clarify highways matters;
To ask Surrey to look at ways of focusing objections through town and parish councils and give these additional weight;
All members should be sent a copy of the response to Mrs Lovell’s informal question.
To urge Surrey officers to look at other ways of taking cumulative impact into account when formulating their response.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the Committee, based on the observations above, finalise recommendations to the next meetings of the Development Management Committees A and B and the Executive on ways of improving the service to people in the Borough, which may include requests to the County Council to improve its service.

Background Papers (MD/DoPD)

SCC Local Committee report on SCC Transportation Considerations in the Planning Process: the Role of the Highway Authority as a Consultee to the Planning Authority

SCC Transportation Development Control Good Practice Guide.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Peter Driscoll Telephone: 01483 523477
E-mail: pdriscoll@waverley.gov.uk

G/Bureau/comms/O&S3/182.highways