Admittedly we too weren’t sure how we fit in to the planning process and in getting our voices heard. Upon first explorations it may seem like it’s all hidden cloak and daggers behind the scenes sort of stuff. Maybe it’s the overload of technical jargon, or mish mash of laws and legislation that seems overwhelming. So let’s try to open the curtains on a few things…
Who is responsible for what decisions?
The planning process is a devolved subject. This just means that certain types of planning applications are decided on by certain levels of authorities, mostly depending on their size. Smaller projects are decided locally by the Local Planning Authority (LPA) which is part of the local District Council. Bigger projects are decided by the Planning Inspectorate (i.e. government).
If we take solar farms for example, anything 49.9MW or below is decided by the local council. Anything of 50MW or above is decided by the government. Both of the Enso Energy and EDF Renewables proposals are up to 49.9MW, so it is decided by the LPA. That is Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC).
For anything that might be a bit more complicated, such as the two solar farms, the developers are encouraged to go through a pre-application phase. This involves the developers discussing with the Council’s Planning Officer what they would like to do, and the Planning Officer giving them advice as to what is needed as part of their’ planning application.
Enso Energy have publicly completed two types of pre-application stages with MSDC. First an EIA Screening Opinion, which is just to ask if their proposal needs an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). MSDC said yes. Then they submitted an EIA Scoping Request, which is to ask what topics need to be included. You can find the results on the MSDC Planning Portal here. If it doesn’t load correctly you want to search for application reference DC/20/04125. Under the Documents tab you want to read the Scoping Opinion dated 9th November 2020.
Note: MSDC have made a User Guide available which explains how to use the different parts of the Planning Portal. It is available here.
EDF Renewables have privately completed only one type of pre-application stage with MSDC. The EIA Screening Opinion. In this they asked if they would need one and were told Enso Energy needed one, so they probably would to. They accepted this and have not yet submitted the EIA Scoping Request. According to an email with EDF Renewables early December this is “almost ready”.
During the pre-application process local residents can submit any objections and concerns they have directly to the Planning Officer. How to do this is the same for both the pre-application and application stages, covered below. However objections are not carried over from any pre-application stages to the planning application. You must submit them again.
Application for Planning
Once the LPA receives a planning application, it sends letters to any statutory consultees (such as Historic England, Environment Agency, Natural England, etc.) as well as local parish councils. The LPA will also put up site notices on and around the site. These letters and notices invite comments and say what the deadlines are, but are very brief in the details given.
You can find the full set of application documents submitted by looking at the local council website, in the Planning Portal.
When it comes to submitting your opinion on an application for planning the public are given a minimum of 21 days to do so. Anytime after the 21 days the Planning Officer can make a decision on the planning application. However comments can be received anytime up until a decision is made, BUT they are not guaranteed to be considered.
Larger applications tend not to be decided by a Planning Officer. Instead the application is brought in front of a Planning Committee where the application is discussed and decided on. The Planning Officer will produce a report to the Planning Committee, and make a recommendation on whether to grant or refuse the application. However the Planning Committee are not required to make the same decision.
In relation to the two solar farm proposals, comments can be submitted anytime between when the application is received, and the day before the scheduled committee hearing. This can be up to 8 weeks. However we recommend not taking the risk and getting your comment in within the first 21 days.
We won’t cover appeals in too greater detail here. Essentially if the Planning Officer/Committee refuse an application for planning, then the developer has the option to appeal the decision. This must be done via the governments Planning Inspectorate. The process for putting in your comment is a little different, and we won’t cover that in this guide.
If the planning application is granted, then there is no appeal route for those who object to the development.
How to Submit an Objection
There are three ways to submit your comment directly to the Planning Officer:
~ through the online planning portal
~ by email
~ by written letter/post
Online Planning Portal
In order to submit a comment online you will need to create an account with the LPA. To do this with Mid Suffolk you can go here.
Note that once you have your account you can also register for email updates of applications submitted in your area.
Head over to the Search feature and find the application you wish to comment on.
Click on the Comments tab, and then Make a Comment.
Scroll down and there will be a number of questions for you to fill in, as well as a box at the bottom for your written comment.
Once you have finished click Submit.
Note that you have 30 minutes on the page before it will time out, and you will need to log in and start again. We recommend typing your comment into some type of word document beforehand so you can copy and paste it in. Sometimes the website will remember your written comment, but please don’t count on this. There is also a 2000 character limit (see below options).
Your comment should then be listed in the Public Comments tab.
If your response is going to be more than 2000 characters in length then please email them directly to firstname.lastname@example.org with the case reference number as the subject.
When you submit your comment by email you can also include photos in your response. Sometimes it can be hard to understand a particular point you are trying to describe, where a photo can easily demonstrate this.
Please note that all public comments require your address to be submitted with them. Without this the comment will not be accepted. So please include this with your email.
Submitting a comment through the online portal and by email are the quickest ways to submit your comment. However it is understood and accepted that not everyone is able to do this. And so should you wish to submit your comment by a written letter in the post you can.
When writing your letter you must include the application reference number, your full name, and your full address. Without these the comment cannot be allocated to the correct application, nor can it legally be accepted without your name and address.
Note: A single letter signed by several people counts as one objection. So it is always best for each person to send in a separate objection.
The address to send your comment to is:
Babergh District Council (or Mid Suffolk District Council) Planning Department
8 Russell Road
Ipswich IP1 2BX
How to Write an Objection
When it comes to making a decision on an application the Planning Officer/Committee can only make a decision based on planning policy.
They do not have a free hand in deciding on planning applications as it suits them, as they are only entitled to take in account “material planning considerations”. These are matters that are directly to do with either national or local planning policies. In other words, if you can show that a development would be contrary to one of these policies, then that would be a strong objection.
Unfortunately councils are not entitled to refuse planning permission on grounds of inconvenience caused to neighbours during construction, or because it would affect property values, or for building regulation issues that can be dealt with through planning conditions. So it is worth looking at the Councils planning policies, and making sure your objectives relate to these policies.
When you write your objections it is important to describe what it is like now, what the developer proposes, and why this is contrary to planning policy.
It is also best to keep objections short and to the point, as these tend to imprint on councillors memories than long rambling paragraphs. Photographs are good too if it helps prove a point. It is also important to remain polite and calm in your comments.
We’ve created a free guide called “3 Secrets to Writing Better Planning Objections” here.
We will, in due course, be referencing some relevant planning policies within our web pages and articles about the solar farms that you may find of use. If you have any further questions please email email@example.com.