Highways in the planning process

I sit on the joint Devon County Council/Exeter City Council joint Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee [HATOC] and have been contacted by a resident about planning application 15/0436/01.

In particular, the resident was concerned that the issues of vehicular access to the West of England School [WESC] via the main access off Topsham Road and from Wendover Way – along with the Hydrock Travel Plan  – hadn’t been addressed by Exeter HATOC.

The answer is somewhat technical [and maybe appear to be passing the buck] and has me going back to the terms of reference of Exeter HATOC.

Exeter HATOC is one of several [each district authority within DCC has one] and is constituted as a DCC committee which reports to the DCC Cabinet.

The current membership of exHATOC is:
all 9 DCC cllrs representing Exeter divisions, and up to 4 ECC cllrs – split 2 LAB, I CON, and 1 LD (the LD doesn’t take up seat). I am one of the labour nominated ECC cllrs.

Within the general strategy, policies and operating procedures of Devon County Council, Exeter HATOC exercises the following powers of the Highway Authority delegated by the Executive:
– To develop, approve details and monitor and implement the Statutory Devon Local Transport Plan local area improvement programmes, up to a value (work costs) of £250,000;
– To approve details and implement improvement schemes from the Statutory Devon Local Transport Plan regional, countywide and zonal and local safety scheme programmes, up to a value [works costs] of £250,000;
– To approve details and implement Traffic Regulation Orders, and schemes for the control of parking on the highway and to be involved in the development of proposals for park and ride schemes;
– To comment on proposals by third parties to stop up or divert highways and stop up private means of highway access;
– To control the use of highways by the granting of consents, approvals, licences, minor property rights in connection with operations, uses or activities on, under, over or adjacent to the highway;
– To ensure the effectiveness of the maintenance of highways, bridges and street lighting;
– To consider and approve proposals for the making up of private streets;
– To maintain an overview on issues relating to repeated obstruction of the highway and advise when action to enforce public rights of way may be considered appropriate;
– To approve the establishment or deletion of school crossing patrol sites, within the criteria and budget defined by the Council;
– To approve the revocation of New Street Orders; and
– To approve applications to the Magistrates’ Court for the stopping-up or diversion of a public highway.

What we DO NOT do is comment on planning applications! That’s why there is no record of any discussions of matters relating to Tollards Road or Southbrook Road, or access from Wendover Way, in the minutes of any of our meetings.

So how are traffic matters considered and resolved through the planning process?

Let me try and take take through the process as best I can (I’ve never sat on ECC Planning Committee).

A potential developer identifies a site – what is crucial is that – surprisingly – the developer does not need to own the land for the development. They don’t even need to have to have access rights to the land. In theory – subject to paying the appropriate fees and submitting the appropriate paperwork – anyone can submit a plan for a development on any piece of land!

So to date, Hydrock have decided to submit a planning application to ECC to develop the land to the rear of WESC.

Before they did so, they have held public consultation events (not required, but often advantageous to their cause). They have noted the public’s comments – which of course, is NOT the same has having acted on those comments.

It this pre-application stage, Hydrock are probably talking to ECC planning officers to ensure that the plans hey submit meet ECC’s planning policy guidelines.

At the same time they will probably be meeting with DDC’s highways officers who will be ensuring that highways matters met DCC’s highways design standards – and for Exeter, the officer is more than likely to be Will Pratt.

He will judge Hydrock’s proposals against design guidance issued by DC 

Probably in this specific case, the two most relevant parts will be:
Part 1 which deals with highways in residential estates; and

Part 3 which deals with the Planning Framework and covers how proposals are considered and how adoption is achieved

Within the general strategy, policies and operating procedures of Devon Council is to exercise the following powers of the Highway Authority delegated by the Executive:

  • To develop, approve details and monitor and implement the Statutory Devon Local Transport Plan local area improvement programmes, up to a value (work costs) of £250,000.
  • To approve details and implement improvement schemes from the Statutory Devon Local Transport Plan regional, countywide and zonal and local safety scheme programmes, up to a value [works costs] of £250,000.
  • To approve details and implement Traffic Regulation Orders, and schemes for the control of parking on the highway and to be involved in the development of proposals for park and ride schemes.
  • To comment on proposals by third parties to stop up or divert highways and stop up private means of highway access.
  • To control the use of highways by the granting of consents, approvals, licences, minor property rights in connection with operations, uses or activities on, under, over or adjacent to the highway.
  • To ensure the effectiveness of the maintenance of highways, bridges and street lighting.
  • To consider and approve proposals for the making up of private streets.
  • To maintain an overview on issues relating to repeated obstruction of the highway and advise when action to enforce public rights of way may be considered appropriate.
  • To approve the establishment or deletion of school crossing patrol sites, within the criteria and budget defined by the Council.
  • To approve the revocation of New Street Orders.
  • To approve applications to the Magistrates’ Court for the stopping-up or diversion of a public highway.

Within Exeter, the main design offer is Will Pratt, who will check that submitted details are in accordance with both the approved highways layout (from the planning application) and the technical specifications in relation to the construction of roads

Will and his team will provide a report to ECC planning officers as a ‘Statutory Consultee’ which will outline their thoughts about the highways aspects of the proposed development, and these will be added to the paperwork that goes before ECC planning committee – of course, if Will has done his work properly, and the developer has followed the DCC design guide! this is likely to point the committee towards approval on highways issues!

As ECC Planning Committee has a quasi-judicial function it can only refuse permission purely on planning matters (something often not appreciated by members of the public)

It is very hard for the counclllors on the Planning Committee to refuse an application on highways issues if DCC – as the Local Highways Authority –  has said that the proposals are sound in their view,as it opens up the possibility of a legal challenge from the developers. If this is the case, the developer is likely to go to appeal before the Planning Inspectorate. If the developers appeal is successful – and ECC’s decision is overturned – there would be a strong expectation that ECC would have to be all legal costs.

There is a very useful guide jointly published by the Local Government Association and the Planning Advisory Service  – How planning work: an introductory guide to councillors – but it well worth a read by members of the public

in particular, page 13 outlines what councillors can (and more importantly, cannot) base their decisions on – these are called material considerations.

The other thing to remember about the planning process is that, as a quasi-judicial process, the members of the Planning Committee are unlikely to offer a view – either way – on what they think about the application as they have to consider all the facts placed before them at the decision meeting

This can often come across as remote or stand-offish -but they have to make theior judgement on the application with an open mind, listening to ALL the evidence and not having predetermined their decision.

I hope that puts some of the myriad of issues into some kind of context

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