City of Winchester Trust
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Planning Applications:
Viewing Panel Guidelines

Purpose

Due to past local government reorganisations those living within the boundaries of the City of Winchester have lost a level of representation, and although there are City councillors to look after personal problems, there are no parish councillors to act as an additional check when planning matters are involved. The Trust does not presume or aim to replace a parish council's role in dealing with general problems, but does feel it has a part to play in commenting on changes that will affect the City's character and built environment.

The role of the Planning Appraisal Group (PAG) is therefore to monitor the planning applications in the Winchester wards, and its comments are important for three reasons:

a) To give the Trust's views to the Planning Authority;

b) To keep the Trust Council and members informed;

c) To record the Trust's views for future reference.

For the first purpose the comments must be concise, but clear and well-reasoned because we have no power to influence decision except by persuasion. For internal information the comments must be open to criticism by members, so that any general divergence of opinion between panels and members will come to light. For all three purposes the comments must be consistent and in line with current Trust principles and policies.

Principles

Because our reason for existence is to preserve the character of Winchester, the over-riding principle of the Trust with regard to development is that it should be in character with Winchester, both visually and with regard to the proposed use.

This does not mean that schemes need be traditional in style; on the contrary, the Trust recognises that a major characteristic of Winchester is its constant changing of styles over the centuries, and we do not believe it would be right to freeze things now or at any point in history. However, we do believe that it has always previously been a slow and piecemeal process, replacing buildings here and there as they became redundant and so maintaining the texture of the street frontages. Only very important buildings have ever broken this rule, and comprehensive 'house-style' redevelopment across several frontages is therefore not in character with an historic town. Whilst it is always safe to build in the same materials and scale as adjoining buildings, over the years there have been many examples of interesting contrasts, and this form of liveliness must not be ruled out if the new building is good enough.

There are nevertheless presumptions in favour of certain things.

a) So many old buildings, especially the small and less distinguished, have been lost recently that we consider a very strong case must be made if demolition is proposed.

b) For the same reason, if it is the only way a project can be viable we are not necessarily opposed to the retention of an old façade on an otherwise new building, though this should only be a last resort where restoration or good new architecture appear to be unattainable. However, this should never be an excuse for the non-essential gutting of contemporary period interiors.

c) Traditional local materials, pitched roofs, etc, are preferred for infill in historic streets. There is no reason why good modern architecture should not employ these materials and structures, and whatever the style of earlier ages these things have maintained a continuing relationship between new and old. Equally, appropriately employed contemporary materials may be successful if the design and execution are good enough – innovation is also traditional.

d) Particularly where a change of style or materials is proposed in a street scene, it is very important that perspectives along the street should form part of the application.

e) Broadly speaking, we consider there are three legitimate approaches to the design of a new building in Winchester: a completely modern design, provided it is in scale and sympathy with its surroundings, an appropriate traditional style expertly executed, or a clever and deliberate combination of the two. In all cases the most important factor is that the design should be a composition in which its elements relate to the whole, and the whole relates to its context.

Other basic principles include:

e) Road frontages should be maintained; the shapes and enclosure of spaces between buildings are just as - if not even more - important than the buildings themselves. Widen the High Street using identical buildings and the Winchester character would be lost for ever; change one or two buildings crudely and the damage is limited, and may be put right in time.

f) Trees are an essential part of the City's character. We are in any event opposed to the loss of garden areas by building or car parking, but when this is unavoidable we maintain that space for the growth of large trees must be kept and planting of indigenous species made a condition of approval, as well as the adequate protection of existing trees during building work. The felling of healthy trees should be avoided in virtually every case, but the replacement of very aged trees in different positions is an acceptable policy, bearing in mind that Winchester is drastically short of the next generation of trees.

g) Interesting spaces and good urban landscaping should be encouraged in new developments.

h) Vehicles are a necessary part of Winchester and always have been, but we maintain that traffic must adapt to Winchester and not the other way round. We are opposed to street widening, corner cutting, pavement parking and any other insidious means of easing the situation of vehicular traffic at the expense of the built environment. We are keen to see traffic congestion reduced by removing central car-parks, with pedestrian activity in central areas being increased by Park-&-Ride schemes and other means to improve the lot of both pedestrians and cyclists, provided these are not mutually detrimental to each other. On the whole we prefer the Dutch 'woonerf' principle (the shared use of streets with pedestrian rather than vehicular priority) to extending full pedestrianisation of all streets in the central area.

i) Existing views, where important, should be retained, but not all views are sacrosanct where a good scheme warrants change. Opportunities for new views must be treated with care as old cities tend to be closed-in places. Overviews are especially important in a city surrounded by hills, which makes views of roofs and foliage as important as views from close quarters.

Policies

It is important that all panel members should read TrustNews and other Trust publications to ensure that their comments are broadly in line with the policies and principles of the Trust, for it would be detrimental and confusing if the Trust was seen giving differing opinions - the comments made by panel members should represent the Trust's policies rather than their own personal views.

Scope

There has been considerable discussion over the years as to the scope of Trust comments, and the following terms of reference have been laid down:

i) Our area is the City of Winchester and anything that affects it and its setting or can be seen from Winchester. We do not otherwise comment on matters outside the city boundary, except in very special cases or on general principles of conservation.

ii) We aim to comment on all applications within this area, even if it is only to say that we have no objection or comment. It is important that the Trust should pay special attention to the Conservation Area, for in the past it has been shown that on occasions either the Planning Officers or the Planning Committee cannot always be relied upon to uphold the conservation area policies when these conflict with other local interests. The City sometimes needs us to act as its conscience.

iii) Our primary concern is with the external appearance of buildings and their surroundings, and secondly with the preservation of important interiors and artefacts. The interiors of buildings open to the public are an exception because they can be appreciated by the public in the same way as the exteriors, but it is not normally our concern to comment on internal planning or the provision of facilities unless the arrangement could be detrimental to the public interest - the Planning Officers are expected to have access to details of a building's structure about which we have no knowledge.

iv) While we are keen that members of the Trust or the public should draw items to our attention, or make representations about individual applications, we must avoid taking up personal issues. An indication of such local input is usually shown by phrases such as “We understand …” or “We have been told …”. It is important that the Trust should not concern itself with a member’s view or a change that could cause personal inconvenience, since in these circumstances the best way of influencing events is by a personal written objection or an approach to the relevant City councillor and it would weaken respect for the Trust if it were seen to favour its members’ personal interests.

Format

The Trust’s weekly comments are submitted on standard headed comments sheets and e-mailed to the Planning Department with the comments on the various applications given on separate pages; each comment is preceded by the reference number, case number and the official description of the application. Where no comment is made the applications are listed on the same page to show that they have been seen by the Trust’s viewing panel.

Comments should be well-typed and presented since this has a bearing on the respect given to our views, quite apart from making them more easily readable for busy officers and Council members. It should also be remembered that our comments may be seen by the applicants and other members of the public.

It is therefore important that the wording of objections and comments is clear and considered, for we have to be prepared to explain to an applicant why we have criticised their application. The term "The Trust therefore OBJECTS to this application" is used when we feel an application should be refused, and if it is felt important that more than a delegated decision by the Planning Officer is required and that it should be considered by the Planning Development Control Committee, a copy of our comments is sent to a member of that committee.

Phraseology should be suitable for the opinions of a respected amenity society, neither pompous nor too chatty, and should avoid unnecessary architectural or planning jargon wherever possible.

Procedure

Three alternating panels check the applications every week. When a scheme is contentious or likely to have a major effect on the City, at least two panels should examine the application and on occasions a presentation by the architect to the Trust Council will be sought, and the PAG chairman will then combine their comments to form a consensus opinion. Copies of objections and comments on major developments are sent to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Development Control Committee, and to interested Councillors when they seem of particular importance to a neighbourhood. Copies of all comments are sent to the chairmen of the viewing panels and the Chairman of the Trust, and to any others the latter feels should see them; copies of the comments are kept on file at the Heritage Centre for reference and access by members.

Each panel consists of four Trust members: its chairman and comment-drafter, and three others, one of whom must be a non-locally practising architect. A team of regular members makes up each panel and there is a reserve of other Trust members who fill in when a regular panellist is unable to attend.

The Planning Appraisal Group’s chairman chairs one of the panels and is responsible for recruiting panel members, co-ordinating panel activities and endeavouring to ensure that a full complement of four members is available for each panel. When sent amended plans by the Planning Office, the chairman will if possible present this to at least one of the panels or, failing this, consult one of the architects before writing a letter in reply to the Officer; this might be to withdraw – or confirm – a previous objection, and unless a matter of Trust policy is involved there is no necessity to consult the Trust’s Chairman, although he must be sent a copy of the letter for the Heritage Centre files.

When an applicant goes to appeal against a refusal by the Local Planning Authority and the Trust is informed of this by the Authority, the Group’s chairman should normally only write to the Planning Inspectorate in support of a dismissal if we have objected to the original application; a copy of this letter should be sent to the Chairman of the Trust and filed at the Heritage Centre.

SC February 2009