Interview with Senior Principal Planner, Amy Roberts

30th November 2018

This November, Amy Roberts from our Exeter team was promoted to Senior Principal Planner. Amy has been with Bell Cornwell for 5 years. We find out from her what planning has to offer in the South West at the moment and her future predictions.

What changes have you noticed in the planning sector since you joined us?

Public sector resourcing problems are increasingly apparent. There is more emphasis on the importance of pre-application engagement (which is enshrined in the new NPPF) but it can be disheartening when it takes weeks or even, in recent experience, months to receive a response from local authorities. Whilst early engagement with local authorities is still fundamental in many cases, I do not question the value of the pre-application process for certain development proposals due to the quality of service local authorities are able to provide. Resourcing problems are also increasingly apparent in the length of time it is taking for decisions to be issued, which results in frustrating delays in delivering the development that is often much needed locally.

There is a lot more emphasis on front-loading now, with more onerous local validation requirements for planning applications. For this reason, it is crucial that we provide our clients with clear, strategic advice so that they can make informed decisions on whether and when to proceed with development proposals in order to minimise risk.

Neighbourhood plans are becoming a more ever-present feature of planning. Whilst in many instances they may well be used as NIMBY mechanisms, they can be used to really influence decisions and allocate sites.

What is the planning sector like in the West Country at the moment?

Mixed. Our experience of working across the South West is that different local planning authorities respond to development in different ways and have very different views on how to deliver growth in the region.

Exeter is one of the most successful and fastest growing cities in the country and Exeter City Council has adopted a proactive growth agenda. Facilitating this growth is hindered, however, by significant environmental constraints that surround the city (e.g the Exe Estuary, the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty etc.). This is presenting Exeter and the surrounding authorities with the difficult challenge of working out how to accommodate growth in the manageable and measured way.

Housing delivery is significantly outstripping employment delivery in the region as a result of the difference in value of the two land uses. The resulting pent-up demand for modern employment space in the right locations is restricting the region’s economy and the growth of local companies in the area, highlighting a clear need for more strategic approaches to plan-making to balance housing and employment delivery and for making local authorities more accountable.

What are your predictions for planning in the Devon/Exeter area over the next few years?

A far more strategic approach will be taken to delivering development across the region, with more joined-up working between the main authorities in and surround Exeter (i.e Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge District Councils). Whilst it is still early days, we are anticipating a return to a formal regional plan in the form of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP). The GESP, once drafted and approved, will provide a strategic framework for growth in the Exeter region and will seek to balance housing and employment delivery, whilst also taking a strategic view on the delivery of infrastructure and ways to minimise environmental impacts. This will have a direct bearing on the pattern of future growth in and around Exeter and, therefore, on development opportunities for our clients.

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