In this week’s edition of The Planner newsletter, there is an article entitled Enforcement officers are ‘unsung heroes’ – quoting a speech given at the recent National Association for Planning Enforcement (NAPE) conference. Whilst I suspect they were somewhat preaching to the converted, the sentiment is justified. Just as a police force is critical to upholding law and order in society, Enforcement Officers are critical to the success of the planning system, ensuring that rules and obligations are adhered to.
However, I would argue that the role of in-house planning monitoring and compliance is also crucial. Whilst the primary focus of the Lightsource Planning Team is the development of new projects, monitoring and compliance on our operational solar farms is also one of the core aspects of our work.
Armed with their trusty measuring wheels, measuring tapes, and stack of plans and elevations, the Lightsource Planners visit each of our solar farms following construction, to hunt down any non-compliance with planning. We do the same for sites we look to acquire from other developers – to identify any lurking gremlins that need vanquishing.
Perhaps one of the more memorable issues we encountered was the suspicious flattening of a newly planted hedgerow…further inspection identified the guilty parties!
Not all companies have in-house planning teams, and may outsource some aspects to planning consultants. Either way there are resourcing and cost implications for the business. Given the spread of our sites throughout the UK, travel costs and time out of the office are the most notable implications for my team; however, these costs are eminently justifiable.
The following are my three key arguments for why developers should invest internally on planning compliance monitoring (though perhaps the final point is the one to highlight to those that hold the purse strings):
· Prevention is cheaper than the cure: It is far better to know about an issue, than to find out from an Enforcement Officer threatening Enforcement Action. Proactive monitoring encourages contractors to get things right in the first place, and also informs the business of aspects of non-compliance on sites, allowing action to be taken to rectify this (whether that be planning amendments, completion of outstanding works, or physical alterations on site).
· What’s in a name? Reputation is critical for future development prospects, and actions often speak louder than words. As a developer/operator it is important that we adhere to our obligations, and fulfil promises made during the planning determination process.
· Do not pass go, do not collect £200: If refinancing assets, banks will want to see that an asset/site is compliant with all planning obligations, and having proof to hand will avoid delays. Equally, for those developers looking to sell developments/assets– a potential buyer undertaking thorough due diligence will want to see that planning conditions have been satisfied and the development is in compliance. Therefore, it is in businesses financial interests to keep on top of planning compliance.
It can of course, also be a nice day out of the office (well, for the summer site visits that is anyway!).