Two planning appeal decisions in July were thought provoking and made me reflect on how developers and consultants approach the promotion of sites.

The two appeal decisions were for sites in Essex. One in Uttlesford and the other in Braintree District. Each appeal included issues of a lack of five year housing land supply, a matter which propelled developers to grab a permission, before the land supply corrects itself. This is fair, accords with the National Planning policy Framework and something I have been party to for many years. However, both appeals were dismissed where the impact on the landscape or historic setting were seen as too damaging.

These two appeal sites are close to where I live so I know their location well and the character of the local area. They are located in very attractive villages which have historic character and rich landscape settings. As a local I would immediately see these locations as one which have stood the test of time, as an undeveloped site, for good reason. They each read as part of an important landscape or  historic setting.

Now, I am no NIMBY but there are occasions when you don’t need to be a consultant to know when something is just not right.¬† Your immediate gut feel respects the obvious. As a planning consultant there is a professional obligation to advise and not just be an advocate. The temptation to laterally think around the obvious leads to a self hypnotic belief that your gut feel was misplaced. It leads to a mesmeric influence that surrounds a team, and importantly the client, and where the “obvious” is lost. Avoiding this temptation must be at the heart of every Town Planner.

I would urge developer clients to be doubly cautious of promoting land for development where history leaps out to show a small town or village has stayed the same size and shape for decades. Sustainable patterns of development are not that difficult to envisage. They avoid best landscape, best agricultural land, historic settings, poor drainage, poor access and high reliance on private motor vehicles, to get to schools and places of work.

Sometimes the basics are lost in the desire to be clever and sophisticated. Even Appeal Inspectors have a gut feel and after you have ploughed through paragraph after paragraph of reasoning, the decision falls back on that very initial instinct.