Camden Council proposal to scrap planning letters to neighbours will ‘play into developers’ hands’

Linda Grove says new policy will discriminate against the elderly Picture: Nigel Sutton

Linda Grove says new policy will discriminate against the elderly Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Plans by Camden council to stop sending letters to neighbours to alert them controversial planning applications on their doorstep are a “step too far” which will undermine democracy, say critics.

The council says it could save £200,000 a year by scrapping the adjoining occupier letters.

Neighbours would instead have to search the council website regularly or spot notices on lamp posts or in local newspapers.

The council announced its proposals in small article in its monthly The Camden Magazine.

Conservative leader Claire-Louise Leyland fears the move will undermine democracy. She said: “I am deeply concerned about this proposal. This change will make it very difficult for local people to get to know about planning applications in their area. As such, they are less likely to give their views on applications.

“This could make the planning process in Camden less robust and ultimately, cause havoc for local people across the borough, as unsuitable and inappropriate developments are put before the committee with no objections.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui said the policy could discriminate against elderly residents and those who don’t have computers. She said: “While it may save Camden £200,000 a year, it is a service which residents need. The community should rail against this policy. It is a step too far.”

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Linda Grove pointed out that developers, who have already built 340 basements in Hampstead in the last three years, will manipulate the system to their advantage.

She said: “Camden want us to look at planning notices on lampposts or search on their website. But there are members of our community who do not do internet or, in my road, one elderly lady who doesn’t even go out of the house so she won’t see the notices on the lamp posts.

“Residents will have to check the Camden’s website frequently to check what their neighbours have applied for, not allowing us to object to building works in time to object. Developers will use this loophole to their advantage knowing full well that they can get applications into Camden planning without community objection thus destroying yet more of our lovely location.

The Heath and Hampstead Society (HOHS), which works to maintain the character and amenities of Hampstead, is also concerned by the propopsals.

David Castle, chair of the HOHS, said: “The decision not to notify neighbours of adjacent planning applications will cause serious problems for those who might wish to object.

“Not much time is given for objections to be made and of course, once permission is given, neighbours have no right to appeal or reverse the decision.”

The council is considering the move as part of a consultation on its Statement of Community Involvement which set out how to involve local people in planning policies.

Councillor Phil Jones, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport said: “By 2017 our funding from central government will have been cut in half. This means that we need to make tough choices about funding local services.

“These letters are not personally addressed and are a pretty ineffective communications tool. They currently cost taxpayers £200,000 a year so it is right to consider if this is a good use of public money.”

He stressed: “We do however understand that residents and businesses need to know about planning applications in their local area, so information would continue to be available on our website, in weekly adverts in the local paper and through new-look posters on lamp posts.”

He said improvements had been made to the council’s planning email alert system.

Consultation on the Statement of Community Involvement will begin in late October