I receive a lot of correspondence about planning issues, and asked a question at the city council meeting this week about the monitoring of potential breaches of planning conditions, and enforcement of those which are proven. We need to have trust in the system, and I want to ensure the system works so that we can have that trust.
Before I get on to that, however, here’s a separate example of the ‘system working’ – if we give it enough of a shove. You may be aware that the trial period of Voi rental scooters and ebikes in the city has recently been extended by the Combined Authority. I am in principle supportive of an increased range of what seem to be called ‘personal mobility solutions’, as part of the measures needed to reduce car traffic on our streets.
But as ever, the devil is in the detail.
The Voi trial in Cambridge uses geo-fenced parking areas rather than the docking stations or painted areas adopted in other cities. Voi insists that rider education (and, if necessary, sanctions) means that inconsiderate parking won’t be an issue.
However, the unfortunate reality is that users can still park thoughtlessly while remaining within the terms of the scheme.
The corner of Cavendish Avenue and Hills Road has been a particular hotspot for this over the last few months. I’m not sure if it’s because of the user demographic which leaves scooters there, or because there simply isn’t enough space for the numbers that are regularly left.
Regardless of the reason, the pavement has been regularly blocked, inconveniencing everyone passing by on foot and endangering those with mobility or sight difficulties. Some people have reported being forced to walk in the road.
I have not been alone in complaining to Voi about this but each time they’ve come back with a response of “We’ll send someone out to move the scooters this time” rather than looking at it from a systems perspective of “We have evidence that this location doesn’t deliver an acceptable outcome”.
However, I’m happy to report that after my most recent feedback, this location has now been removed from the list of parking places on the Voi app and no-one should be parking there from now on.
We hear a lot about ‘agile’ and ‘innovative’ solutions to problems, and there is of course a place for experimentation. However, organisations operating or licensing such experiments have to listen to both positive and negative feedback and be prepared to act where there’s consistent evidence that something isn’t working.
I know that the issues with the scooter trial are not just restricted to inconsiderate parking, but at least on this occasion Voi has listened to residents’ voices.
Getting Planning Enforcement better resourced
I receive a lot of correspondence about planning issues. This covers both the process before decisions are taken to approve/reject applications; and properties where approval has been given but there is subsequently a breach of planning conditions (such as hours of work, build footprint, or post-build usage). This latter group of concerns are the responsibility of the Planning Enforcement function within the City Council.
Planning Enforcement is a hugely important area of activity. After all, there’s no point attaching planning conditions to approvals if there’s no realistic prospect of getting the site owner/developer to observe them. It’s also an area where I’ve heard a lot of criticism from residents about lack of visibility of its activities, which cases it takes up, and how vigorously it pursues them.
This worries me. It is critical people trust that the system can enforce the necessary checks and balances. Otherwise confidence in the whole apparatus of planning breaks down.
So I asked a question at the Council meeting this week, intended to try to improve the visibility of Planning Enforcement and its activities:
The answer directs readers to this web page, from where you can access the Planning Enforcement Register. From looking at the detail, I believe there is some recent information to be updated, but it is striking how few enforcement notices have been recorded in the last couple of years compared to the volume of construction going on in the city.
Obviously there needs to be a high bar set for evidence of breaches, but I know from working with residents affected both by obvious breaches during the construction phase, and by post-completion unauthorised change of use, that the system can feel rigid, unresponsive and frankly unsympathetic to the impacts on their quality of life.
Getting the Planning Enforcement Register updated and visible is only the first step in what needs to be a concerted campaign to get Planning Enforcement better resourced, help residents understand what it can and can’t do, and create a system in which we all can have trust.
This will be a priority for me in the months ahead. It will not be easy in a time of further pressures on the Council’s funding, but it is vital.
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