Our role in shaping and protecting district
At the heart of every local council is its planning authority – shaping and protecting communities and guiding how they look and feel.
The planning authority plays a key role in ensuring the places in which we live and work are attractive, vibrant, well designed and responsive to the needs of local communities.
In the UK, around 500,000 planning applications are submitted every year – around 2,200 in the Harborough district alone. The challenge is – not just to process these applications within deadline – but to weigh up the economic, environmental and social benefits and drawbacks of each case.
“It’s a continual balancing act” says Harborough District Council’s planning and regeneration portfolio holder Phil King; “we fully acknowledge the need for development yet must ensure this happens in a sustainable way.”
Local authorities are guided by national and local planning policy. Planning officers use this guidance when asking for amendments to planning applications to ensure that negative affects on the character of the area or on neighbours are kept to a minimum.
Cllr King said: “Whilst we have settlements in the district which are expanding as population grows, we also have miles and miles of open, rolling countryside which we protect by ensuring development is sustainable and fitting with the character of our district.”
In recent years, the Harborough district is consistently named as one of the best places in which to live – not just in the East Midlands but in the whole of the UK. This, arguably, is in part due to the way it has retained its historic character and sense of community – a key objective of the planning authority. This nationally-recognised reputation makes the district very attractive to homebuyers – but also for people who want to remain here and raise a family. This in turn creates housing demand, and development pressures.
But planning isn’t just about new development – it’s also about enhancing what we already have. Not just through conservation, of which the council is pivotal with 62 designated conservation areas in the district, but through home improvement.
As is clear by the popularity of TV shows about home improvements there is a huge trend for people to make the most of their homes. In the last year alone, Harborough District Council has granted planning consent for approximately 500 property enhancements (eg. extensions, garage conversions, etc) much to the delight of the applicants and their families.
Television and media has also picked up on some of the more innovative and culturally significant applications dealt with by Harborough District Council.
Just recently, a beautiful new opera house has been unveiled at Nevill Holt near Medbourne – being hailed by critics as an “outstanding” achievement.
Nevill Holt Opera’s general manager Rosenna East, said: “With our productions staged for some years in a temporary tent structure that was beyond effective repair, it was imperative that a new venue be created to support our growing ambition and artistic reputation. The support of Harborough District Council in the process to build a stunning and unique permanent theatre within our historic stable block was critical in bringing this vision to reality. We are deeply proud of the result – hailed as an ‘indisputable triumph’ by the Telegraph among others - and we look forward to building on this success in the years to come, to the benefit of the region as a whole”.
Not far from Nevill Holt, within the grounds of Grade I listed Font House a once dilapidated bungalow, thanks to close work with Harborough District Council planners, has been transformed into a multi-award-winning home that is both “satisfying and elegant” and an exemplar of conservation-led design.
The council has also helped move forward the £53million upgrade of Market Harborough railway station by granting approvals to Network Rail to provide an electric supply and new 300 space car park as part of the project.
A number of new community enhancements have also been approved recently. Fleckney has just opened its first café, called the Toast Office, which is proving popular with local residents, and new doctors’ surgery has just opened in Husbands Bosworth. An attractive village green has been created in Saddington as well as the district’s first ever energy storage system which helps dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The council’s planning officers were recently invited to Meadowdale Primary School in Market Harborough to help pupils gain a better understanding of how planning works and how the council protects its heritage. The children were really engaged and looked at old photographs of how the district has changed and grown over the last century.
So the role of a planning authority is vast, varied and ever-changing, and the work happening at a local level is helping to enhance many aspects of life in our district.
Cllr King concluded that: “We completely understand that planning can be an emotive issue, but there is some really good work happening at a local level and it is important we acknowledge these successes and the benefits they are bringing to the district – whilst remaining focused on our positive long-term vision for this district.”