ENews Issue - 30 October 2013

ENews - October 2013

TRA ENews is the monthly newsletter of Trevor Roberts Associates. It provides information about TRA generally, its staff and Associates, current and forthcoming events, new training courses and consultancy services etc.

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In this issue:

  • Enable more staff to deal with planning applications - with bespoke training and support from TRA
  • 2014 workshop programmes coming soon!
  • Neighbourhood Plans: independent examination service from TRA
  • Final workshops for 2013 - still time to book!
  • Latest Forum on Enforcement: in case you missed it
  • Bespoke training for Councillors involved in planning
  • Newark and Sherwood get back to basics with Tree Hazard Assessment




Enable more staff to deal with planning applications - with bespoke training and support from TRA

TRA recently carried out a very interesting assignment for Blaby DC which we believe may be a useful model for other authorities looking to increase their capacity to process planning applications.

Our brief from the authority was to devise and deliver a training programme for a small group of technical and enforcement staff to enable them to deal with simple householder planning applications. In response, Senior Associate, Sue Glover, developed a 6-day programme (delivered over a 6 week period) which combined group training and one-to-one mentoring.

Feedback on the programme was positive:

  • Was really useful to spend some afternoons on site visits listening to others comments etc. Sue was great at explaining and answering questions; very relaxed and friendly.
  • It was very interesting with good practical learning experiences with support from an experienced tutor.
  • The style of training was laid back and relaxed which made it enjoyable. Looking forward to putting the training into practice.

Having undertaken this initial assignment, we are pleased to be able offer this service more widely and would encourage anyone considering taking a similar approach to capacity building and skills development to get in touch for a chat.

This sort of training would be appropriate for planning administrative and support staff, enforcement officers, and planning officers who normally work in policy. It would necessarily focus on smaller scale applications and, depending on the authority's needs, this could include householder applications, small commercial, variation or removal of conditions, prior approvals and advertisements.

Benefits to the authority from this kind of upskilling include:

  • enabling a wider range of staff to deal efficiently and effectively with planning applications
  • providing greater flexibility when resources are tight and deadlines need to be met
  • encouraging a team-based approach to decision-making.

The staff themselves also benefit by widening their experience and opportunities and developing a better understanding of how different elements of the planning process work and interact.

The training would typically cover:

  • policy analysis and the basis of decision-making
  • site visits, including health and safety
  • site-specific issues such as design considerations, conservation areas, impact on neighbours, parking and highway safety, trees and landscape etc
  • good practice in report writing (and the implication for appeals)
  • conditions and reasons for refusal
  • dealing with customers, and
  • negotiating with agents.

The format is flexible and training can be tailored to suit the needs of the authority and the staff involved. A basic model, however, might involve several days working with staff in the authority, typically involving training in small groups in the morning and one-to-one mentoring/coaching in the afternoon. One-to-one sessions can be spent discussing current cases, working on reports, conditions and reasons, and going on site visits for hands-on practical experience. Group site visits can also be organised to analyse Inspectors' decisions and review examples of recent development. Email support is also available between sessions so that participants can raise specific issues with the Tutor.

If you would like to know more or to discuss your particular requirements please contact Penny O'Shea without obligation.

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2014 workshop programmes coming soon!

The TRA 2014 Training Workshop Programmes for Planning and Development Practitioners in both England/Wales and Scotland are currently being finalised, and details will be published on our website as soon as they are available, so be sure to keep an eye on it!

Once again, the programmes will include a mixture of our popular, well-established training workshops and some brand new ones being developed for 2014. New topics are likely to include effective report writing, customer care, and design principles.

The discounted Block Booking Scheme which many authorities have taken advantage of in recent years will remain in place, offering between 10 and 15% discount on bookings of 2 or more places made at the same time over any number of events.

If you would like to receive details of the 2014 programme by email and are not already on our mailing list you can sign up to it here.

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Neighbourhood Plans: independent examination service from TRA

The Localism Act 2011 introduced the new right for communities to come together to draw up a Neighbourhood Development Plan or Neighbourhood Development Order for their local area. Where communities takes up this right, the LPA has a number of statutory duties to support the process, including making arrangements for the independent examination of the Plan or Order before it can be put to a referendum.

After a slow start, neighbourhood planning now seems to be gaining momentum. According to DCLG, over half of LPAs are working with their communities on neighbourhood planning. So far, more than 500 Neighbourhood Areas have been designated by LPAs across the country, four Neighbourhood Plans have been subject to a referendum and a further 13 have been submitted for publicity and independent examination.

In appointing an Examiner, the LPA is free to choose (with the agreement of the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum) anyone who:

  • has appropriate qualifications and experience
  • is independent of the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum, and
  • has no interest in any land that may be affected by the proposed plan.

TRA has provided support for the planning service for many years and, being independent of both local and central government, is ideally placed to offer a team of appropriately qualified and experienced Independent Examiners.

Our Examiners are all Chartered Town Planers but have a wide range of backgrounds and experience, enabling us to choose the most appropriate person for each examination based on the characteristics of the area, particular issues involved etc.

Please see our website for further information on TRA's Neighbourhood Plan Examinations service.

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Final workshops for 2013 - still time to book!

The last 2 workshops in TRA's 2013 training programme will take place in Manchester on 21 November 2013. There are a number of places remaining on both workshops, however prompt booking is recommended at this stage.

Permitted Development (ONLY 2 PLACES LEFT)

This workshop is suitable for all staff (including Support Staff, Technicians, Enforcement and Planning Officers) who have to deal with enquiries about Permitted Development. This ever-relevant and popular workshop looks at how PD works, provides some crucial definitions and help in interpreting and applying the most frequently used classes of permitted development. Its aim is to help participants develop the knowledge and confidence essential in dealing with this complex aspect of the planning process. The workshop will provide a useful opportunity to look in detail at Householder PD, minor development and other sorts of enquiries; how PD enquiries are handled; how the Prior Notification procedure works and how applications should be processed; and any further proposals from Government to change the PD regime. Crucially, it will provide a n opportunity for delegates to ask any questions about PD.

In light of the new PD rights which came into effect on 30 May 2013, the workshop has been updated to include consideration of the new classes and the additional prior notification requirements.

Being an Effective Witness at Inquiries

This recently developed workshop is aimed at both planning and other technical officers who may be called as an Expert Witness at a Planning Inquiry but have relatively little or no previous experience. It is intended to promote a good understanding of the preparation required; what should be included in a witness statement; and how to give evidence in chief and under cross-examination. The workshop will provide participants with a solid grounding to improve their confidence, and thereby effectiveness, when giving evidence. The workshop will identify the legal and procedural requirements and provide practical advice on the approach to providing both the written and oral evidence needed to support reasons for refusal, conditions to be attached to a permission, or justification for enforcement action.

Further details and booking forms for each workshop can be found on the TRA website by clicking on the above links. If you are unable to make a firm booking straight away, provisonal bookings can be made to reserve places by telephoning 01204 385678 or via our online provisional booking facility.

Don't forget, bookings of 2 or more places can earn you between 10 and 15% discount under our block booking scheme. Further details are on the website.

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Latest Forum on Enforcement: in case you missed it

TRA's latest Forum on Enforcement took place in Manchester last month. TRA has now been organising an Enforcement Forum for well over 20 years (and in some years we've run two events). Trevor Roberts was probably the first person to recognise the potential for Enforcement Officers to make a valuable contribution to the planning service beyond mere investigations - if they were provided with the knowledge and confidence to undertake the wide range of enforcement work.

This year's Chair, Bill Murray, started off the day by asking how many of the delegates could claim to have attended at least 20 previous Forums. It was pleasing to see quite a spattering of hands go up - in fact more than we had expected. One of those who raised her hand was our Senior TRA Associate, Vivien Green, the first speaker for the day. She admitted to attending back in the 80's and being invited by Trevor to give her first talk to the Forum in 1992 on the subject of the usefulness or otherwise of a new tool called a Breach of Condition Notice.

On this occasion, Vivien delivered a Legal Update for Enforcement - an essential element of CPD in such a complex and litigious part of the planning process. This sort of session can often be rather "dry", but Vivien (a self-confessed anorak when it comes to enforcement case law) choose to look at particular cases from the perspective of the LPA and then at how the matter had got to court, drawing out the relevant practice points along the way. Unusually for this session, she also provided pictures of the cases and invited delegates to ask questions as she went along.

The three parallel sessions looked at dealing with Gypsies and Travellers; becoming more proactive in the monitoring of conditions; and some tips for appeal work.

  • Neil Costen, Planning Enforcement Manager at Basildon, was a key player in the enforcement action and subsequent direct action to remove the Gypsies from Dale Farm. From this very protracted and high profile case he teased out what he had learnt and provided some practical guidance for any Enforcement Officer faced with these sort of problems.
  • James Cooke, Acting Principal Planning Enforcement Officer at South Gloucestershire, talked about the impact of their enforcement team being split from planning and also what they decided to do when they found that 100% of pre-commencement conditions on minor developments had not been complied with. He explained his LPA's approach to becoming more proactive and invited comments from the audience on their own experiences. This resulted in some useful ideas about how to introduce more monitoring into what is often a very reactive service; including building more monitoring into s106 agreements and making use of CIL when it is introduced.
  • Senior TRA Associate David Kaiserman's session looked at tips to improve dealing with appeals, starting from the "expediency report" whether this is a delegated matter or not, going through to what to do and not do at the site inspection with the Inspector.

The final plenary session was given by Rhona McMeekin, an Investigator for the Ombudsman. Her interactive talk explained the role and powers of the Ombudsman, taking questions along the way. She reminded us that no organisation is perfect and mistakes happen. The Ombudsman's concern is that LPAs learn from their mistakes and improve their practice. We should not be afraid to admit a mistake so long as the matter is put right as soon as possible. Essentially she was trying to tell us all - how not to see her again!

The date for the 2014 Forum will be confirmed shortly so look out for that in future editions of ENews and reserve your place early.

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Bespoke training for Councillors involved in planning

TRA has been training Councillors involved in planning for almost 20 years and has trained many thousands of Councillors in more than 220 local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales. A list of clients and some of their feedback can be viewed on our website.

Over the years TRA has developed a number of one-day workshops for Councillors which have become extremely well-established and have been delivered for hundreds of authorities; in particular the Briefing on Planning for Councillors and The Role of Councillors in Planning: propriety and good practice.

We do appreciate, however, that individual authorities sometimes wish to provide training which is more directly tailored to their specific needs, perhaps covering less mainstream topics or combining them in different ways. In such cases, we provide as much flexibility as possible in developing bespoke training sessions to reflect these needs.

Some recent examples of bespoke sessions that we have delivered are:

  • Greenbelts and the decision making process
  • Getting the best from planning
  • Gypsies and Travellers
  • Wind energy and planning

As a starting point, an indicative list of the sessions we can run for Councillors on more specific aspects of planning can be found on our website, but we should be able to cater for most requirements.

In particular a brand new session 'Avoiding costs awards at appeal' has recently been developed. This workshop provides guidance on the grounds for costs claims and shows how to avoid a successful claim against the Council. It is appropriate for all Councils, but would be especially relevant when Members are inclined to make decisions contrary to officer recommendations or where Councils are losing appeals because they don't have a 5 year housing supply or an up-to-date Plan. Even if appeals are ultimately lost, it is possible to avoid costs awards. The workshop examines a variety of scenarios and case studies, and provides useful tips and information to implement best practice procedures to fend off costs awards.

If you would like to discuss your Councillors' training needs to see if we can assist or if you would like to see outline programmes for any of our Councillor workshops, please contact Angela Holmes, without obligation.

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Newark and Sherwood get back to basics with Tree Hazard Assessment

TRA was recently commissioned by Newark and Sherwood District Council to prepare and deliver a one-day bespoke training workshop on Basic Tree Hazard Assessment and Tree Protection Orders (TPOs), on an in-house basis.



The workshop was developed and delivered by TRA presenter, Paul Allen. It provided visual inspection training at a basic level for a small group of staff with a non-arboricultural background. The training allowed participants to identify obvious defects from ground level so they can report their findings and help determine the suitability of trees for a new TPO or whether works requested were suitable for their species and/or condition.

The main course objectives were to enable attendees to:

  • state the legal and safety implications of hazardous trees
  • maintain their own health and safety while carrying out basic visual inspections
  • recognize hazardous trees
  • determine the level of risk
  • decide on an appropriate course of action
  • collect and maintain adequate information
  • recognize their own limitations
  • understand the criteria for the serving of a new TPO
  • have a basic understanding of BS3998: "Treework - Recommendations"

These objectives were met using a variety of training techniques including presentations by the presenter, group discussions and exercises including a site-visit, which was an element of the training that the attendees found especially useful. Course feedback was particularly encouraging:

  • Good to have a field survey - gives the training better context.
  • I found the session informative.
  • I enjoyed the tree identification and on-site visit.
  • The training workshop met more than my expectations. I found the presenter very enthusiastic; an interesting session that now makes me feel differently towards the trees in our area. Enjoyed the day!
  • Good overview - crash course on trees. It provided a very useful update.
  • The presenter was knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

This session is now available for delivery to all authorities, so if you would like to receive a detailed proposal, including an outline programme, then please do not hesitate to contact Angela Holmes directly.

Please remember that the prices we quote are 'all-in' and therefore include all of our fees, presenter expenses and pre-course/course material, which means there are no hidden extras and our clients are aware from the outset what they can expect to pay at the invoicing stage.

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Contact Information

Trevor Roberts Associates

1 Atlas House, St. Georges Square,

Bolton, BL1 2HB,

United Kingdom

Tel: (01204) 385678

Fax: (01204) 386376

Email: mail@tra-ltd.co.uk

Website: http://www.tra-ltd.co.uk/

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