Planning – Frequently Asked Questions

Discovering what’s being planned near you

When somebody applies for planning permission to put up or alter a building, the Council will send a letter to immediate neighbours and to local amenity groups such as the Brixton Society.  This process is not reliable, and if you are just a few doors away, you might not hear anything.  A notice may also be put on the front of the building, or on a nearby lamp-post.

Hidden among other public notices towards the back of the South London Press, you may find a list of recent planning applications.  This is not a complete list, but it must include anything in a Conservation Area or affecting a Listed Building, or certain “bad neighbour” uses.  These notices appear a couple of weeks after notices go out to neighbours, near to the closing date for comments, so you must respond quickly.

If you only hear indirectly that something is being planned, you can check through the Planning Applications Database within the Planning pages on the Council’s website HERE.
Simply typing in the street or estate name will bring up a list of all applications, old and new, over the past 30 years or more, but usually with the most recent first.
Clicking on one application will bring up more details about it, including when the application was accepted, and when a decision is expected.
If you know the application number, you can key that in and go straight to the case details.
If the application has already been decided, you should be able to find the decision letter, setting out any conditions if approved, or the reasons for a refusal.
For current and recent applications, you should also be able to find all the plans and other documents provided by the applicant.

For larger developments, applicants are encouraged to organise some form of consultation to gauge local opinion before making their application.  For the redevelopment of a housing estate, there may be a separate exercise to inform or consult existing residents, some time before a planning application is made.

There is no legal obligation on a developer to consult, or to take any notice of responses.  Ideally developers should modify their design in response to local comments, but they may just treat it as a token exercise and go ahead more-or-less as they first intended.

How to object to a planning application

Time is against you – you need to alert us and your neighbours to act quickly because of the tight timescales for responding to the Planning Department. While you can send in comments up to the scheduled decision date, they will have more impact if they arrive before the planning officer has drafted his or her report.

Details of an application should be on the Planning Applications Database section of the Council’s website.  You can submit comments online from here, and your comments can then be seen by other visitors to that part of the website.  We prefer to send in our comments by e-mail, but that makes it easier to place them on our own website – read a few examples to see the sort of issues we often raise.

Larger-scale developments may have a lot of supporting documents, but always look first at the Design & Access Statement.  This should describe the proposals as a whole and explain the designer’s or developer’s intentions.

Objections are far stronger if you can point out that the application breaches set planning policies.  Most often, that means those in the Lambeth Local Plan, but reference to the Mayor’s London Plan, and the National Planning Policy Framework, can provide ammunition too.

Reference can also be made to Conservation Area appraisals, Supplementary Planning Documents, Master Plans and draft plans or policies if relevant.  Most of these can be found through the Planning pages of the Lambeth Council website HERE.

Explain your concerns clearly, with a separate sentence or paragraph for each.
Focus on the key planning issues – references to the parentage of the developer, or the impact on local property values, will not help your cause!
If you have specific concerns, such as overshadowing or late-night noise, please share them with us, in case we miss them.  We might be more concerned about some other defect in the design, like poor access or loss of trees.
It is better to have separate objections from several different individuals or organisations, rather than rely on a petition.  It is also worth raising the matter with your local councillor, particularly for larger developments.
The number of objections may persuade the planners to refuse the application, or at least to refer it to a panel of Councillors for decision, the Planning Applications Sub-Committee.

There may be an opportunity for one or two objectors to address this committee – normally an evening meeting at the Town Hall. However non-council speakers are strictly limited to two minutes each, so treat this only as a final reminder to the councillors about the points you should already have made in your objection letter and in lobbying local councillors – ideally you will by then have persuaded one of them to speak on your behalf.

An application may be refused if it infringes too many planning policies, or it may be approved with conditions.  Extra conditions may be imposed to mitigate the impact on neighbours.  Some conditions will ask the developer to apply again later for approval of certain details, which could be anything from delivery arrangements to the colour of the bricks.

Keep an eye out for these “variation of condition” applications, in case the developer tries to evade his obligations.

Remember, we will try to help, but we cover a large area of Central Lambeth with a lot of applications.  The Council is erratic in notifying us, and for sites beyond the Town Centre, notices may go to the Clapham or Herne Hill Societies instead, while we get some of theirs!  Like you, we are only doing this in our spare time, so we depend on people on the spot to report problems back to us.

How we deal with planning applications

There is at best a 3-week window to respond to a planning application, or 2 weeks for amendments to an earlier application.  If the timing rules out reporting to our monthly executive committee meeting, applications that seem to be of concern will be referred to our planning sub-committee.  In effect this is a panel of experienced members who will confer by e-mail and agree between them which member should send a response to the Planning Department.

There are certain issues that we look out for, but a frequent concern is a large increase in the amount of accommodation on a site, with the risk of overloading the local infrastructure.

Our responses are normally published on this website, though there may be a time-lag.  Proposals for some prominent sites go through several versions over years, so they may have featured previously in our quarterly newsletter.

Other planning or policy consultations

At any moment, the Council may have several consultations underway on different aspects of its services, from school provision to parking control zones. These can be found on the Consultation pages of the Council’s website.
We are chiefly interested in those concerning planning, transport or environmental policies for the whole borough, or at least our parts of it.

Occasionally we respond to planning or environmental consultations from Central Government or other bodies such as the Greater London Authority.
All of these have longer response times, from 6 to 12 weeks, though that benefit can be lost if the publicity is poor or late.

Our past responses or comments may appear on this website, or as features in past issues of our quarterly newsletter.

Home Improvements – plan ahead!

Alterations to flats, maisonettes and accommodation above shops will almost always require Planning Permission.

For normal family houses, however, several forms of alteration or extension are allowed as Permitted Development, without a planning application being necessary.  The rules are complex, and can change occasionally, but for the current position it’s best to consult the Planning Portal HERE.

If your home is in a Listed Building, or in a Conservation Area, there will be more restrictions on what you can do – start by checking what constraints apply where you are HERE.

If you are not sure if permission is needed, or it’s a borderline case, you can apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development to confirm that (say) the size of extension you propose will be legal.  This is slightly quicker and cheaper than a full planning application, but not much.

If you think that staying within the limits cramps your style too much, even before you prepare a planning application, try to sound out your neighbours for their views, to find out if there is any element that they would object to.
The main areas of concern are likely to be overshadowing, overlooking, or noise from activities too close to existing bedrooms.  The design of balconies and roof terraces is particularly sensitive.

Above all, start from what you have – don’t try to make a Victorian house look Georgian or futuristic.  If you are in a Conservation Area, there should be an Appraisal or Design Guide findable through the Planning pages of the Council website, for more advice on what suits your street or block.

Even if you don’t need to apply for planning permission, you can reduce the risk of devaluing your house (and half the street with it) by trying to follow the Council’s Design Code.
We prefer replacement window frames to follow the original patterns, even in simplified forms, but we are not picky about the framing materials.
Most of the architectural interest is on the street frontage, so you will usually have a freer hand at the back.
Inside your home, it is not for us to say how you should arrange the space, but overall, we encourage you to give priority to durability, adaptability, and keeping running costs low.

Basements – special challenges

Many Victorian houses survive around Brixton, often built with basements or cellars which are of limited use due to dampness or low ceilings.
If you are adding or extending basement space to this type of house, our main concern is that light wells are enclosed in a sympathetic manner, such as with traditional-style railings.

Lambeth Council has published detailed guidance, mostly aimed at protecting neighbours from structural damage, so you will probably need technical advice from a structural engineer to support any planning application to add or extend basement space.

Simply deepening an existing basement to give more headroom may require deeper foundations, in the form of underpinning.  If this work is to take place on or close to your boundary, it will then be necessary to serve a Party Wall Notice on the owner of the next-door property.

Updated June 2020
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