ACER Planning Sub-Committee

Mission Statement

The primary concern of the Planning Sub-Committee is to monitor planning applications and building works affecting Whitegates in order that the suburban characteristics of the area  are retained  in accordance with accepted standards as defined by local and national government.

Terms of reference

  1. The principal reference document for the Planning Sub- Committee is the Borough Design Guide and associated policy documents including Strategic Planning policies. The Borough Design Guide can be viewed on the Wokingham Borough Council website under Planning/Planning Policy/Supplementary Planning Guidance and Documents/Borough Design Guide Supplementary Document.
  2. The scope of activities of the Planning Sub- Committee are set out in the ‘Terms Of Reference’ attachment to the ACER constitution

Members Eyes and Ears
Members eyes and ears are essential to monitor what is taking place. This includes checking that work is authorised and checking that work is being done to approved designs.

  1. It is possible to check that work is approved by going to the WBC website and checking for approval status and the approved drawings and conditions.  Look under Planning/Planning Applications/ Search planning applications using application details.  You can then enter the address and it will list all the planning applications for that address.
  2. Remember that, once approved, applicants have up to three years to start the work.
  • If the work is not listed it may be possible that the work is being done under the government Permitted Development rules. Work being done under Permitted Development does not have to go through formal Planning Approval process but still has to comply with Permitted Development rules including  matching style and materials of the original building.  For a quick guide to Permitted Development go to https://interactive.planningportal.co.uk. Click on the type of property and you will see an interactive picture which you can explore.  There are also mini- guides  listed at the bottom of the page which you can click on, download and print off.
    1. All building work has to comply with national Building Regulations
    2. Breaches of planning can be reported on the WBC website under Report Problems/Planning and Building Control. There is a form to fill out and this will generate a reference number.  You will remain anonymous as a complainant.  An Enforcement Officer usually contacts you and reports back to you.  ACER would be pleased to assist. Local councillors are often helpful.

Planning Applications

    1. Review of Planning Applications
      1. All new Planning Applications are listed weekly on the WBC planning website.  There are typically over 60 new Applications every week.  ACER focuses on the applications relating to Whitegates.   86 Applications relating to Whitegates were submitted between April 2017 and April 2018
      2. The planning Sub Committee look at all planning applications relating to Whitegates. This includes the application forms and the drawings which are printed off and examined to determine whether they comply with the Borough Design Guide and their impact on parking in particular.
    2. Processes.
      1. Any Application which does not clearly comply with the Borough Design Guide etc is reported on to all ACER committee members for comment/ approval, and ACER’s report is then uploaded onto the WBC website as either an Objection or Comment where it is on record for viewing by the appointed Planning Officer and the general public.  Copies are also circulated to our ETC and WBC councillors with a request that they support our concerns.
      2. The Planning Officer visits the site and makes a recommendation which is signed off by their head of department. In the case of major concern, or large scale of development, or if an Application has been ‘Listed’ by a Councillor, the Application will be referred to the WBC Planning Committee Meeting for a decision.  At the Planning Meeting any interested party can request to make a statement on an Application which can be up to two minutes long and accompanied by audio- visual aids if required.  ACER has attended these meetings and made submissions.
      3. If a planning application is refused, the applicant can go to Appeal. A government appointed Inspector (based in Bristol) is allocated to each case. Their decision is final.
  • Guidelines
      1. The Guidelines for the Planning Sub-committee are set out in 1.b Terms of Reference
      2. Planning rules have changed over the years and developments which were allowed a few years ago may not comply with current requirements. Applicants should refer to Wokingham Borough Council website under Planning including  the Borough Design Guide which is under  Planning/Planning Policy/Supplementary Planning Guidance and Documents/Borough Design Guide Supplementary Document

    Table of Actions on Applications –

      1. ACER keeps a log of all Applications including actions taken by ACER and outcomes.

Checking for Unauthorised Build/use –

  1. It is possible to check that work is approved by going to the WBC website and checking for approval status and the approved drawings and conditions.  Look under Planning/Planning Applications/ Search planning applications using application details.  You can then enter the address and it will list all the planning applications for that address.
  2. Remember that, once approved, applicants have up to three years to start the work.
  • If the work is not listed it may be possible that the work is being done under the government Permitted Development rules. Work being done under Permitted Development does not have to go through formal Planning Approval process but still has to comply with Permitted Development rules including  matching style and materials of the original building.  For a quick guide to Permitted Development go to https://interactive.planningportal.co.uk. Click on the type of property and you will see an interactive picture which you can explore.  There are also mini- guides  listed at the bottom of the page which you can click on, download and print off.
  1. All building work has to comply with national Building Regulations
  2. Breaches of planning can be reported on the WBC website under Report Problems/Planning and Building Control. There is a form to fill out and this will generate a reference number.  You will remain anonymous as a complainant.  An Enforcement Officer usually contacts you and reports back to you.  ACER would be pleased to assist members. Local councillors are often helpful.

Annual Report of Planning Sub Committee

    1. Annual Report for the AGM issued 9th March 2018

There were 95 planning applications in Whitegates in the last 12 months.  This compares with 56 in the previous 12 months.

All the Applications were looked at to check if they complied with the Borough Design Guide and the related Core Strategy sections of Wokingham Borough Council. We also checked to see if there would be any impact on parking.

It is the policy of ACER to support improvements to properties provided the changes retain the character of Whitegates.  The key priority as set out in WBC Core Strategy  is ’ to maintain the existing quality of environment for local residents’.  Development is required to be ‘compatible with local character…….of the highest quality……and to incorporate existing features’.

ACER is fully aware that Planning Officers have a high case load and work under pressure.. We are looking into how Applicants can be advised of planning requirements before their Applications are submitted, in order to save time and money when applications are rejected.

One major concern is enlarging a property without provision for additional parking. A typical example is enlarging a 3 bed semi detached property to 5 or 6 bedrooms and converting the garage to a ‘study’.  Car parking at the property therefore reduces from 3 cars to two, while the number of car owners living at the property increases.   Additional cars are therefore parked on the street which is an imposition on existing residents in the road and also risks damage to grass verges through persistent parking. The ‘official’ guidance to planning officers appears to be that provision for 2 cars is sufficient for a semi detached property.  This is patently not realistic. This evident anomaly in parking provision needs to be addressed.

In  creating more parking space in front gardens, the removal of all shrubs, trees and grass is commonplace, which changes the characteristics of the locality. The Borough Design guide stipulates that ‘soft landscaping’ should be present in areas given over to car parking.  Planning Officers are reminded of this at every opportunity. ACER needs to see more interest by Planning Officers in this problem before all greenery disappears from front gardens in Whitegates

ACER was disappointed that the new park and ride scheme next to Thames Valley Park, plus the proposed elevated roadway (MRT) alongside the River Thames, will have negligible impact on traffic congestion and rat running through Whitegates. In our view this expensive scheme should have addressed some of the bottlenecks in traffic flow in and out of Reading which is impacting traffic flow in Whitegates.  The impact of installing a new elevated roadway alongside the tranquil Thames Path route into Reading cannot be understated, whereas the benefits are limited according to figures in the official Report.

On a more positive note, the Application for a large outbuilding at the bottom of a garden in Church Road was refused by WBC and the applicant lost the Appeal.  Reasons given were that it “would detract from the character and appearance of the surrounding area”. ACER has long argued that these large bungalow style outbuildings are an eyesore and out of place in our gardens. If outbuildings are required they should be unobtrusive and finished in materials which blend into the garden environment, including screening with shrubs etc.

On another positive note, an application for a very large loft conversion was rejected by WBC. ACER argued that these very large loft conversions are unacceptable because they change the characteristics of the area from sloping roofs to vertical ends.  They also allow overlooking into previously private areas of neighbouring back gardens.  ACER has argued that to reduce the size of the dormer windows would avoid the necessity for drastic roof reconstruction while still adding an extra room in the loft.

The ACER Planning Sub-Committee appreciate the support given by our local Councillors, Earley Town Council officials and the various Planning Officers with whom we have been in communication. We also look forward to future constructive dialog with WBC senior officials regarding general planning issues which we have identified.