A consortium of developers, builders, architects and planning consultants have set up a group to work closely with Kirklees Council to help improve the planning process.
Kirklees Development Consortium now has more than 70 members and is eager to work positively with Kirklees planning department to ensure decisions on developments are made as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The consortium members mainly employ local people and buy from local builders’ merchants and other suppliers in the area so they are a big boost to the local economy.
Consortium chairman James Wimpenny, of Wimpenny Construction, whose family has been building in Huddersfield since 1884, says local developers often tackle smaller and sometimes challenging sites.
He says they strive to design homes in the local style to complement each specific site and use quality materials such as natural stone that blend in with the surroundings unlike some of the huge developments by national housebuilders which he says can sometimes can be rather generic in style.
Since setting up just over a year ago the consortium has produced a 10-point plan about how working with Kirklees planning department could be improved.
Mr Wimpenny said: “After chatting with other developers it became apparent we all faced similar planning problems with the planning application process from start to finish often lasting for two years which is just far too long.
“One of the main problems is communication in terms of phone calls and emails not being answered for months and consultations with other council departments such as highways and drainage seriously slowing the whole process up.
“I know of one case where it took two years for the consultation over drainage on a development site and by the time it came in the development had already been built. The developer then had to spend thousands of pounds amending the drainage system.
“We just want things to run more smoothly which would be better for everyone – the developers, planners and the house-buying public.”
Mr Wimpenny says things are changing for the better but there is still a long way to go.
“We are a large and influential group and I think Kirklees can now see the benefits of working with us so we are making progress,” he said. “We are trying to be collaborative, not confrontational.
“We have offered to make a presentation to planning officers outlining the practical effects that delays and poor communication have on smaller local companies to improve their understanding of the difficulties we face.
“Conversely, we have said that if they feel the quality of applications is not good enough they can present to us as a group. We are more than willing to learn where perhaps we can improve on our planning applications.
“We realise and understand the council is facing major issues, including serious financial problems, and that the planning service is underfunded and overstretched. That’s an important part of the reason we feel there needs to be more of a partnership spirit between us.
“The whole system was broken – not helped by Covid and the advent of working from home – but I feel we are now turning a corner especially with planning officers back in the office more and an office they share with other council departments such as highways who often need to give their input into planning applications.
“It’s vital Kirklees has an efficient and welcoming planning process, especially for businesses. If the council turns down industrial units that provide hundreds of jobs there are neighbouring councils who would welcome them with open arms.
“We could do with more face-to-face meetings on applications as a short meeting involving all those involved could save months of exchanging emails.
“Also consultees such as highways should be given a fixed period to respond to requests for their input and after that it should be presumed they are OK with the application.”
Mr Wimpenny stressed: “There needs to be a presumption to approve developments in Kirklees rather than a presumption to refuse.”
Anyone wanting to join Kirklees Development Consortium should email James Wimpenny at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.