Why planning consultants have been used for Hackney Marshes applications
There has been much disinformation spread through the local press and social media over the past few weeks regarding the Council's use of planning consultants. Here, Cllr Jonathan McShane explains the real reasons why Firstplan has been brought in to help with Hackney Marshes projects.
There have been claims made recently that Hackney Council has been using planning consultants in its Remaking the Marshes programme in order to ‘bend the rules’ of the planning process and drive through applications. This is categorically untrue. To realise why the Council has employed Firstplan, it’s crucial to understand how the local government planning process works. One council department will often need to apply to its council’s planning department, known technically as the ‘Local Planning Authority’. Common examples include a transport department applying to put up new road signs, or a housing department applying to build new homes. This is because council departments must follow exactly the same procedures as any other applicant. The process is controlled in law - Regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations Act 1992 – as well as by the Council Constitution and it applies to every council in the UK. For complex planning applications a council understandably can’t ask its own planning staff to draft its application as these same planners will be judging the application and must remain impartial Council departments, such as Health & Community Services in the case of the Remaking the Marshes programme, are not staffed by planning experts. So, when dealing with a complex application, it is standard practice for them to use consultants who can advise on technical issues. As such, Firstplan was hired to make sure Marshes applications were developed in line with correct planning policies and guidance, and to ensure they were free of technical error to avoid wasting valuable time and resource. The planning issues relating to Hackney Marshes and Mabley Green, where there are rightly a lot of protections and regulations due to the environmental importance of the sites, are extremely complex, and Firstplan was chosen because it is highly experienced in working on similar sites throughout the UK. The expertise of Firstplan in the Remaking the Marshes project - a £17 million improvement programme to enhance Hackney Marshes and create football, rugby and cricket facilities fit for the 21st Century – has been vital. However, it’s important to remember that protections and regulations aren’t there to stop anything new ever being built, more to make sure developments are justified and appropriate. There is no conspiracy here, Firstplan was not brought in to ‘get around’ regulations but to help the Council work within them and fully comply with them. Planning at the Marshes site is complicated further because it is Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) which means there are added planning restrictions. MOL planning policies allow the building of facilities associated with the open space, nature conservation and/or recreational use but only if the prime function of the facility is ancillary to the maintenance or use of the open land; it is sited close to existing built development or on the periphery of the open land; and it has a high standard of design and landscaping. We believe our most recent plans – representing the final stage of the Marshes project - fall within MOL rules and will increase sporting and recreational use of the Marshes, making Hackney a healthier and happier place.