GUEST COLUMN: Coun Sally Higgins, chairman of Mansfield District Council’s Planning Committee

Coun Sally Higgins
Coun Sally Higgins

I have been on the planning committee for almost 19 years and became chairman of the committee in 2011.

Planning is one of the regulatory committees of the council so is none political.

Building work.

Building work.

Each member receives the appropriate training and has available the expert knowledge of planning officers and are able to access any documents appertaining to all planning applications.

Each application is looked at on its own merit bearing in mind policies of the council and planning guidance.

There have recently been major changes to the planning system, so it is always necessary to keep up to date on the changes.

In the main it has made some permission easier to gain such as for home extensions up to a certain size that now takes far less time with no cost if the criteria is met. Other changes include neighbourhood plans which enable far more weight to be given to particular communities to have a say on future developments - such as the work the parish of Warsop are doing in this respect.

It is my role as chairman to make sure committee members have all relevant information and at committee listen to applicants, objectors and then to have a full and frank debate on the application prior to voting.

If there are issues a site visit can be arranged which could help to assess the matter.

There are applications that can be dealt with by officers through delegated powers - these are decided on each week by me as chairman and one other member. Other applications such as major developments or any that have had more than three objections will go to a full committee.

When I was first put on the planning committee I was not sure what to expect. I soon, however, began to see planning as an insight into shaping the town’s future. I also came to realise that from an idea to actual fruition of a new build can be anything from a few months to a few years. It is always interesting to look back on some outcomes that could possibly lead to better design issues for the future.

Planning is very emotive, it can be the difference between someone extending their home to enable them to stay in the property as their needs grow or a massive housing development that could be seen to impact on the present community.

Each is looked at as an individual application and every side of the case is looked at. When committee is taking place, public speakers are allowed from applicants, agents or objectors and councillors who may have an interest.

They are then questioned by members in order for points to be raised on the issue. Members then question officers who have put forward the case usually with a recommendation - for or against the application - and also if felt necessary conditions can be attached.

A proposer and seconded then puts forward a recommendation. A further debate takes place and finally the vote is taken. The decisions are not always as the applicant wants, however I personally and I am sure the other members on the committee can justify the decisions they have made.

Mansfield and district have some fantastic old and new buildings and there are conservation areas in many parts of the district. We have a conservation officer who does the best to preserve buildings of architectural interest especially in the town centres; however this has to be weighed against regeneration of the area with suitable developments. Again speak to the planning department as there are ways forward and compromises that could be looked at.

My advice to anyone thinking of any type of building work, extension or change of use, do not be afraid to contact the council’s planning department for advice as this can prevent work being done that does require permission but has not been applied for - and the bottom line could be enforcement to correct this even to the point of reinstating the building as it was.

There are some applications where retrospective applications can be put in but it is always better to get the advice prior to alterations as this saves a lot of time and money.

I am privileged to be chairman of the planning committee and to see differences made to the district and hope to continue doing so. I enjoy every aspect of planning and would like to thank the planning officers at the council and fellow member on the committee for their commitment to the role.

If anyone is in doubt of the robust way applications are decided please do attend a planning committee Meeting which are open to the public, details are available via Mansfield District Council.