Developers bypass council

Residents and developers have started bypassing Bristol City Council and sent planning applications straight to the Government, after ministers stripped the authority of its powers for making decisions too slowly.

The first two proposed schemes were last month submitted directly to the Planning Inspectorate, which will now decide whether or not to grant permission.

In March, the council was placed into special measures for failing to meet legal deadlines to deal with “non-major developments”.

It means applicants have the option of sending their plans to a government-appointed inspector for determination instead of City Hall.

Plans were submitted to the inspectorate on Wednesday, April 10, to turn a family home in Hotwell Road, Clifton, into a house in multiple occupation for up to six people.

That was followed the next day by proposals for a marquee and landscaping works in the garden of Promenade House, a mansion in Clifton that is now offices, which would be used for outdoor events, workshops and meetings.

Bristol City Council is one of only five local planning authorities to be “designated”. This means the Government has effectively taken over the role for certain types of development because the backlog has become unacceptable, with hundreds stuck in the system, and steps to recover the situation were considered not good enough.

Applications that can be submitted straight to the Planning Inspectorate can be best described as mid-range – smaller than a large-scale project called a “major application”, effectively no more than nine homes or where the floorspace is less than 1,000 square metres, but bigger than plans from a householder or single business for simple extensions or alterations to a building.

Retrospective applications are also not included and must continue to be sent to the council, along with changes to planning consents that have already been approved.

The inspectorate aims to make decisions within eight weeks and there is no right of appeal.

The council imposed a recruitment freeze and a round of voluntary redundancies in the planning department in 2021 and 2022.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has blamed government funding cuts for the problems.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service