Saturday, 12 December 2009

Broadmead German Market: Planning Department turning blind eye to Council’s rule breaking?

Throughout the new Bristol City FC stadium planning process and especially where the proposed new supermarket at Ashton Gate is concerned, Bristol City Council has gone to great pains to claim that as a planning authority their work and decisions are entirely independent from their own political, personal or corporate agenda. They even describe the city's planning process as "quasi-judicial".

So it is instructional to see how they apply this independent, "quasi-judicial process" to themselves. A Parliamentary note placed in the House of Commons library on 9 December 2008 (and updated April 2009) sets out their obligations clearly:

“The general principle underlying the 1992 regulations is that local planning authorities must make planning applications in the same way as any other person, and must apply for planning permission. Except in special circumstances, they must follow the same procedures as would apply to applications made by anyone else.” - SN/SC/1195 available here (pdf)

Meanwhile on the council's website:

“BCC is taking a pragmatic approach in terms of planning permission. Taking into account DCLG guidance, BCC will not request planning permission for ‘temporary’ uses for up to 28 days. All ‘temporary’ changes of use of more than 28 days will need planning permission.”
Application Guidance Notes: Empty Shops and Promotion Initiative (pdf)

So how have Bristol City Council, as the local planning authority, interpreted these clear rules in relation to their own 'temporary' German Christmas Market in Broadmead? Advertising for the event says it runs from 12 November to 20 December (38 days), which means that the council is obliged to obtain planning permission for the market.

If you have a look at the council's planning website, the market is indeed listed on there, although surprisingly it is still 'pending consideration'. In other words Bristol City Council has not obtained planning permission for its own temporary structure, despite it being in place for over 28 days now.

So will the council, as the "quasi-judicial" planning authority be taking enforcement action against itself "in the same way as any other person"?


  1. Where's Jon?

    Isn't he responsible for this?

  2. You may be interested to know that at a meeting I attended earlier this year where the council and its partners discussed Christmas events, the esteemed Deputy Chief Executive, Mr House, was in attendance.

    He made a BIG show of the fact that he could personally 'sort out any planning issues'. At the time the assembled masses thought that was i - dodgy and ii - unlikely to work.

    A few idiots there obviously took his word for it. The results speak for themselves.

  3. Blimey.

    The thick copper better get his 'reputation manager' on the case about this immediately.

    Does he charge double time Sundays?

  4. It appears that some Lib Dems also have concerns about how "quasi-judicial" and independent the planning department is;

    From Bristol 24-7 at ;

    A senior Liberal Democrat councillor has questioned council leader Barbara Janke’s opposition to a proposed biofuel plant for Avonmouth.

    Cllr Steve Comer has said that, while environmental concerns over the fuel to be used were understandable, any refusal of the plan had to be made on clear planning rules.

    “When the Ashton Vale football stadium application was being considered there was much discussion in the Group about how this was ‘a decision for the quasi-judicial planning process’ and how we should be careful about commenting in advance etc. Why does different logic appear to apply in relation to this application?"

  5. Actually, I quite like the fact that LibDems feel able to publicly disagree with each other


  6. Evening Tony

    Your blog post has been brought to my attention.

    I will make some enquiries.


    PS "It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it." Joseph Joubert

  7. Tony, do you know how long it takes for the Council to take planning enforcement action? If they started now they'd catch next year's Christmas market! (Ah, I shouldnt joke...)

    Really though I expect this is a matter of capacity. The planning department have been rather busy in the last couple of months. There was that thing with the certain stadium you might remember, and that other thing about a certain superstore, and then this thing with the biofuel plant.

    Ordinarily being a couple of weeks late with an application wouldnt be a major issue, especially one where I expect noone has objected. Clearly on a temporary plan it does make a difference, but it's about priorities. Would you really want resource directed from other important plans to this?

  8. What we expect Mark is for the local planning authority to fully understand and respect the conflict of interest involved in granting itself planning permission and be absolutely scrupulous in how it conducts and administrates such permissions.

    In this case it has not been and this undermines the credibility of your authority. It looks like you have an utter disregard for the law and believe in "one rule for us and another rule for everyone else".

  9. I accept that it could look like that, and I regret that and wish it wasnt so.

    However, if the application had been made by someone other than the Council, as the local councillor I would be ferociously defending the market against any implication that enforcement action should be taken, given that the planning application was in in time.

  10. Oh for God's sake, grow up, Bristol Blogger, you're a jumped up nobody and all you care about is making yourself sound important. If you care so much about local issues why don't you so something constructive for once. It's very easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise - even easier behind a cowardly mask

  11. You're making this up as you go along now Mark.

    "the planning application was in in time"?

    According to the Planning Portal - y'know the people from the government who make the rules everyone has to follow - the minimum time for a planning application is 8 weeks.

    Your market application went in on the 12 October, 1 month before the event.

    It was never going to get planning permission was it? And the people making the application and the people receiving it knew that.

    But they went ahead anyway because they think they can get away with it because they think they're above the laws we all have to follow.

    They're a disgrace and you're an embarrassment for trying to pretend they're acting within the rules when they clearly are not.

    Now where's Jon?

  12. Sorry BB, you got the limit the wrong way around. The Council aims to deal with non-major applications (like this) in less than 8 weeks - see:

    In fact, we are measured on this - national indicators NI157b and NI157c relate to "planning applications processed within 8 weeks". We are penalised for those that go over this time.

    I would accept that 31 days was very ambitious, but then I would argue that since permission isnt needed for a 28-day temporary event, then as long as the permission was in place by 28-days into the event then it would be good enough for me, and I would argue the public. That would actually give 8 1/2 weeks.

    As it happens the Council has missed that, so this application will count as -1 in NI157b. That's a shame and as I have said to be regretted...but would you rather resource was taken from other considerably more important and controversial plans to deal with this?

  13. PS I also want Jon back - all this blogging is tiring!

    PPS Got my picture working :-)

    PPPS I put up a new poster for Jon in his office...

  14. As promised, I asked about this and this is the officer's response...

    "Planning permission is required because the market will be operating for more than 14 days. The applicants are the German market operators and in order to facilitate matters Bristol City Council are acting as their agents, (BCC Markets).

    "The application was registered with the Local Planning Authority on 30th October 2009, and is seeking a temporary consent for the erection of 25 - 30 market stalls and a christmas pyramid from 12th November to 20 December 20009.

    "Local retailers and other agencies involved with Broadmead matters were consulted back in August 2009 through the Boradmead Forum , who fully supported the market, and through the Cabot Circus newsletter and internal website.

    "Local residents (those living in Quakers Friars area) were also informed about the proposals in early October.

    "Planning officers met with BCC Markets on 1st October to talk through the proposals and to offer advice on the content of the planning submission and the process, a service that is offered to all applicants and their agents.

    "Preliminary discussions were also held with highway colleagues.

    "As anticipated the planning application has not raised any issues and no comments have been received from third parties.

    "Some of this must be in part due to the early consultation with local stakeholders and planning officers.

    "Whilst it is recognised that the market is technically operating without the benefit of planning permission at the current time (albeit that it is likely to be issued by Friday 11th December) given the above it is not considered expedient to take enforcement action.

    "Should the operators wish to apply for planning permission next year, they have been advised to submit an application at least 2 months before opening day.

    "Hope this sets the background. It's not a matter of 'turning a blind eye', it's a case of considering the facts and acting in a responsible way."

    Happy to make further enquiries, but I would say this is, as usual, open, transparent and entirely appropriate.


  15. My visit to this much signposted market was a grave diappointment in that what was on sale was about as German as Russell Brand,only much less appetising. Forget planning law, the trades descriptions act might be more appropriate. Obviously quality and origin of food sold wasn't germaine to the planning process.