Monday, 30 July 2012

How many public agencies does it take to change a light bulb?

I'm being facetious of course - but there is a serious point.

I have been trying for some months, maybe even a year now, to help local residents close of a disused alleyway. It's a dead end that goes nowhere and which no member of the public would ever need to use. Indeed the only people who do use it are people who use it for urinating, defecating, copulating and various other activities that would be better practiced in the privacy of their own homes.  The alley has also been used so people could climb over into the residents' backgarden to steal bikes and other items.

I wrote to property services and asked if they could gate it off as it was council land and becoming a nuisance.  They said they were happy to do it but would require the residents to pay for the gate and to secure planning permission.  Planning permission seems excessive for a fairly straight forward metal gate but there we are. The residents are happy to pay for the gate but the whole process got bogged down as it became clear that they would also have to get an architect in to draw up the plans and also pay to submit them to planning.  Basically the residents really just want the council to deal with all the process stuff and they will pay for the gate.

I wrote to the Cabinet Member who was very helpful and put me in touch with the community safety team who have also been extremely energetic and helpful at trying to get things moving.  They offered to do the drawings themselves so the residents could submit them to planning. They also organised a very useful meeting on site this morning involving one of the residents, myself and officers from the highways authority, the community safety team and the planning department.

So far so good.

But what that meeting revealed was the web of agencies and processes you need to go through to do something as straightforward as gating off an alley that is causing a nuisance and which no one wants open.

Let's go through them

First the residents will need to ask the freeholder of their property if they are content to proceed with gating it off.  The freeholder lives nearby and is apparently content so this should not be a probem.

Second, the community safety team (having kindly agreed to do the drawings) will have to submit a planning application for approval on behalf of residents. Planning will then have to consult all the nearby residents and the conservation officer.

Third, the highways department will then have to agree to close off the alley as it is currently part of the public highway.

This is where it gets complicated. To do this they will need to consult Thames Water, BT, British Gas and any other utilities, which is likely to take a very considerable amount of time. They will also have to consult local residents who live nearby (NB even though they will already have been consulted as part of the planning process). And they have to apply to the magistrates court to secure a court order allowing a public right of way (that goes nowhere because it's a dead end) to be 'stopped'.

If this happens things get even more complicated because the council then ceases to own or be responsible for the road and it becomes the private property of the freeholder. This then means that the residents will have to take on responsibility for cleaning and maintaining it etc. and it also means the council will be under no obligation to collect their bins and may even start charging for their rubbish collection (!!!!) - though the words 'over my dead body' come to mind.

After we had discussed all this it was mentioned that this last part could take years and will likely cost around £9000 on top of the cost of the gate that the residents have kindly agreed to stump up for.

So 5 council departments (if you include refuse) and potentially up to 5 public agencies or utilities will need to be involved to help give six residents some respite from anti social behaviour by closing off an alley that no one wants open. Goodness knows how long this will take, but I'll be damned if it takes more than a year.

What this shows is that if you have a) a problem b) a group of community conscious residents who are willing to do their bit and stump up their own cash to sort it out then it is c) bloody difficult to get the state collectively to make it happen.  Getting this done will depend on some part of the state (the excellent community safety team who have thankfully taken this upon themselves), the local representative (me) and the residents working relentlessly to herd all of the other agencies through their own independent processes.

In for a penny, in for a pound.


Monday, 16 July 2012

Public consultation on key planning documents

Following approval by the Cabinet on 25th June 2012, the Council has published two new draft planning policy documents for public consultation, as part of its Local Development Framework (LDF). The draft Development Management Local Plan (DMLP) contains proposed planning policies that will be used, along with other LDF documents, mainly to guide and determine planning applications received by the Council over the next 15 years. The draft Site Allocations Local Plan (SALP) identifies key strategic sites across the Borough and specific policies for those sites, setting out a range of development parameters including land use. This document will also be used to guide and determine planning applications on those sites, in addition with the DMLP and other LDF documents.   The consultation period for both documents will run from the 16th of July 2012 to the 25th of September 2012, running for a duration of 10 weeks overall.   View the documents at and       Have your say!  Submit your comments online at or if you would like to speak about the consultation with a member of staff please phone 020 8356 8084.    Responses should be made in writing, referencing your comments to the relevant policy, paragraph or table for the DMLP or to the relevant site name and site reference number for the SALP.