In my last column I wrote about how we must be prepared to fight our corner when tackling housing numbers in East Hampshire imposed on us by the government.
This week I want to focus on another element of the planning process where we must show ourselves to be strong enough to stand up for what is right.
The developments we approve are meticulously examined by our officers and councillors to make sure they are the best possible fit for their environment.
But this is a paper process.
What happens on the ground, when architects’ drawings are turned into bricks and mortar, can sometimes be very different to what was approved on paper in the first place.
That’s why we’ve beefed up our planning enforcement team to make absolutely sure that what gets built matches what was on the planning application.
For too long developers of all sizes have been able to cut a corner here or increase a building’s footprint there.
Too often we have seen the promised trees left unplanted or appropriate building materials quietly swapped for cheaper alternatives.
It may not always be a big breach of planning law, but it always matters. If you lived next door to something that was never granted planning permission, then it would matter to you.
That’s about to change.
We’ve added numbers to our enforcement team and we have instilled a tougher and more proactive ethic.
Developers need to know now that if they break the law then we will investigate and bring them to book.
Stop notices and injunctions are all part of the armoury, allowing us to put the brakes on a development if it is not going according to plan – or what was approved in the original plan.
In extreme cases the council’s enforcement team can order a completed project to be demolished and built back right.
A specialist solicitor will be focusing primarily on planning law and the council will have out-of-hours officers ready to drop in and visit sites over the weekend.
These extra resources will give the enforcement team the power to act swiftly and decisively, protecting our built-up environment and upholding the planning process.
The team now has teeth.
Many rural villages are familiar with the sight of land being used without permission. These unlawful uses of land can quickly become a serious issue in small communities and take time and resource to rectify.
We now have that resource available.
Looking to the future, we are demanding ever-higher environmental standards from our house builders.
We are currently working on what we expect to be our greenest-ever Local Plan.
But that won’t be worth the paper it is written on unless we can keep developers on track and make sure new homes are built to the exacting specifications we require.
It may not be glamorous, but enforcement is a fundamental function of the council. That’s why we have given it tools, and the teeth, it needs to succeed.
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