Interview with Senior Associate, Nick Cobbold

31st January 2018

Last year Nick Cobbold was promoted from Associate to Senior Associate. Nick carries out a lot of Development Control work from both the Hampshire and London office. We find out more about his spectrum of work and his opinions on the London market.

Congratulations on your recent promotion to Senior Associate, how has your job role changed?

It has not altered significantly, but I suppose that there is a greater push towards day to day management of staff and workload and ensuring that all our various skills are used.

You also hit the 10-year milestone with Bell Cornwell earlier this year– have you seen a lot of changes within the planning world since you first started here?

Yes, too many.  Successive Governments have tinkered with and overhauled the planning system without success.  Whilst change was needed, I question whether the Government advisers really have a day-to-day knowledge of how the system really works and where the problems lie.  The 10 years have seen a breakdown in communications between local authorities and applicants/planning consultants and the introduction in fees, a lack of manpower to cover expectations and a general change in management approach. The planning profession needs good advisers (consultants) and good decision makers (local authority planners) and there needs to be a trust between the two sides and a realisation that planning consultants weed out a lot of proposals before they get anywhere near the Local Planning Authorities.

The recent Government approach to changing permitted development rights is bizarre and would not have been necessary if there was proper guidance in place to explain their strategy towards development.  Making changes to permitted development, subject to an onerous prior notification procedure does no one any good.

You also do quite a lot of work out of our London office as well, how do you find that work varies from the south-east?

I think there is a misconception that planning in London is different to planning outside of the M25.  To be honest, there is little difference both in strategy and procedure.  Of course, there is a greater emphasis on development in the urban area compared with the rural areas, but this applies as much to large urban areas outside of London as it does in London.  Some proposals are London specific (basements, for example) but, just like anywhere else, follow procedure and policy and you will be successful.

Whilst we are on the topic of London, the housing crisis is a massive talking point at the moment and we recently discussed at our seminar that in order to tackle the housing crisis in London there needs to be more than 50,000 homes built per annum however over the last three years only 87,000 have been built. From a planners’ perspective, what do you think it will take to improve these figures?

The solution is twofold.  Firstly, the Government need to stop paying lip-service to delivering houses and actually come up with a strategy to do so.  Current guidance in the NPPF is so woolly that it (at best) is open to interpretation or (at worst) open to negativity. It is too easy for NIMBYs to stop development and it is too easy for Councils to delay producing a Local Plan (which is the mechanism for delivering development).  The removal of regional planning and top down housing targets without a suitable replacement (or sufficient guidance) has, in my opinion, been a blow which is only slowly being rectified by the Government with, for example, a standard method of calculating housing targets.

Secondly, for too long, Local Authorities have seen their role as being to resist development and old habits die hard.  Negativity breeds negativity and the planning system has become so burdened with bureaucracy that it is slow, costly and inefficient.  The system needs decluttering, letting legislation outside of the Planning Legislation do what it is there to do (for example, the Habitats Regulations).

How do you envision the next 10 years at Bell Cornwell?

I expect to see the company continue to go from strength to strength with particular growth in the London and Exeter offices and possibly elsewhere.  The Hook office will continue to provide the established presence.  New leadership will have new ideas but the strength of the company is based on the direct and personal relationship between staff and clients, our contacts and the specialist advice that we provide.

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