Lambeth council are proposing changes to the way they consult the public on planning matters.

They say they will be concentrating on methods which work well and phasing out “less effective” methods such as providing libraries with physical copies of applications and sending neighbour notification letters to wide areas around development sites.

“In the past the council has sent out thousands of such notifications at considerable cost, but received minimal response” said a council statement.

“The planned changes will help us be more effective and will save money.

“The plans are part of a wider consultation on what’s called a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI).

“Councils are required by law to have an SCI that sets out how and when local people and other interested parties will be involved in development plan preparation and consulted on planning applications.

“Lambeth’s current SCI was adopted in 2008 and has been outdated by changes to planning legislation, reductions in council funding and a greater use of online technology .

“The council proposes to continue to exceed its statutory requirements by sending notification letters to adjoining neighbours for all planning applications.

The new SCI supports smarter ways of working and engaging with the community and developers.

Lambeth’s cabinet member for jobs and growth Cllr Jack Hopkins said: “Many of the consultation measures we use are above and beyond what we’re legally required to do, and indeed what other London boroughs do.

“This is about doing what works, not simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

“We’re facing the biggest financial challenge ever and have to find £90m of savings so we’re looking at everything we do to see whether it’s value for money.

“We know that workshops and focus groups are more useful than a mass mailing There’ll be better information online that people can use at home or in libraries and nothing changes your rights to object or comment on a planning application..”

Lambeth says an analysis of three recently consulted major applications strongly indicates that neighbour notification letters don’t get high response rates.

“For a major application at Wyvil Road (near Vauxhall park) 5076 letters were sent out but only eight comments were received back (response rate of 0.157%). Similarly, for 1 Lambeth High Street (near Lambeth Palace) there was a low response rate of 2.7%.

“The Higgs industrial estate (Herne Hill Road)application attracted a higher response rate of 13.6% but this remains a low response.

Following council cabinet approval, the revised SCI will be subject to public consultation for six weeks from 27 February 2015 and will be available on the council website and physical copies to view at all borough libraries, the Town Hall and Phoenix House receptions.

Lambeth say the draft SCI meets minimum statutory requirements and proposes the following changes to consultations on planning applications:

• Neighbour notification letters sent only to those sharing a boundary with the subject site (i.e. statutory minimum) instead of the current practice of sending out sometimes thousands of letters which is costly and does not provide any significant increase in response rates;

• Including more information on the planning process (for example how people can keep themselves updated on the application) in the initial neighbour notification letter (where used).

The letter will also list all other neighbours notified of the proposal;

• Where site notices are not statutorily required, the council may request the developer to erect a site notice(s) and ask for evidence to prove it has been done; and

• Libraries will no longer hold physical copies of planning applications and drawings. These are available to view free of charge on the library computers via the council website.  (Source: Lambeth council press release.)

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