Planning for New Marinas

The following guidance was provided by IWA Planning Consultant, Bob Dewey on 1st August 2013.

There have been a few examples recently where waterway interests or groups have supported or opposed new marinas being constructed and have tried to use the planning system to do this. It seems to me (as IWA Consultant Planner) that it would be good if I tried to explain how the planning system operates and how local authority planners may react to objections.

Firstly, the planning system operates so that the development plan is of paramount importance in decision making. (Development Plans include Unitary Development plans, Local Development Plans, Planning Frameworks etc). Only in very exceptional cases will decisions be made which run contrary to policies in the Plans. So, as I have tried to suggest and the training sessions I ran for IWA branch planners, the first step should always be to get involved in the preparation or revision of the development plans so that policies are put in place which deal with such matters. If you have a “no more marinas” policy in place you are almost home and dry (apologies for the pun).

At this stage it is important for me to stress that I have taken no view on any of the recent planning applications and nothing here should be taken as support for either side in these applications.

When an application is being decided, the planning officer probably knows very little about the operation of the canal system and thus if you are to persuade him to your point of view, you need think very carefully how you argue your case. (Please remember that next week, she/he could be dealing with a motor racing circuit, or a football ground so they are unlikely to understand all the niceties of canals too).

There are likely to be many issues to consider and I note that the marina on the North Oxford was refused on landscape, effect on the character of the conservation area and archaeological grounds. No mention of congestion at locks etc which appeared to be the main issue for the canal interests. Given the objections (which I gather were lodged) you might find that surprising. I do not. Why? Simply, because, if there is no  “no more marinas” policy why would a council object? How are they to justify that objection on land-use planning grounds? If an appeal is lodged, the planning officer will have to be able to objectively justify that reason. The Inspector deciding the appeal will weigh up the evidence and that will include the comments from CRT. Put yourself in his place; the national charity responsible for canals says there is no problem – how would a planning officer dispute that?

Add to that the planning system is required to operate to allow development unless there good reasons (including development plan policies) not to do so. It is not there to protect competition (except in a very few limited cases) and the general philosophy is that if someone is prepared to invest their money in a scheme it is not unreasonable to assume that they except to fulfil an unmet demand. Few developers would invest in a marina project out of the goodness of their hearts.

However, if an argument of congestion is to be defended there needs to be clear evidence (not hearsay) and more importantly some form of objective assessment of what constitutes excessive “congestion”.  Taking highways as an analogy, there is good professional documentation (and IT modelling) to define the capacity of roads and junctions. Nothing exists for canals that I know of. If you were being challenged by a barrister at a planning inquiry (as I frequently have been) to say what constitutes unacceptable congestion – what would you say to the following questions?

  • Is one boat ahead acceptable but two or three not?
  • Isn’t canal cruising about slowing down, not about racing through locks to get to places?
  • How many extra boats do you think would come on to the system if this marina is built?
  • Surely some would relocate from existing marinas – so perhaps there is no increase in boats in this location?
  • How many boat movements would you say a 200 berth marina would generate on an average Saturday?

I have got to say from my experience, we have moored at the same marina for over ten years and I fairly sure some boats have never moved in all that time.

I can say it can be very embarrassing when you are challenged based upon non-existent evidence. It can be very costly for the Council because the developer will seek to recover his costs from the Council if it fails to back up its reasons for refusal. (That is one possible reason why there is not a “congestion” reason in the refusal.)

So, what can you do?

  1. Get involved in the Development Plan Process
  2. Start to think about what congestion means. If you have time and resources, survey what happens at present and maybe interview people at locks to see what they think. Keep neat records of what you find.
  3. Visit local marinas and see how many boat movements take place and when. Maybe your friendly marina owner might allow you to install a boat counter? Alternatively question the boat owners themselves.
  4. Maybe IWA would want to talk to CRT to develop an understanding of what might be a sensible limit for boat mooring numbers on a typical pound? How does this deal with passing traffic?

I know this all sounds very time consuming and perhaps unnecessary if there is nothing proposed at this time.  But if an application is comes in you will have very little time to act. (applications are expected to be decided in 8 weeks). You won’t have time to commission surveys and your “we think it will cause congestion” letter will be of very limited value. If an appeal is lodged you will have little time either.

I will of course, provide professional planning advice to IWA members if requested – but in reality the bulk of the hard work will need to come from you. Get ahead of the game as soon as you possibly can.

R A Dewey BA(Hons),  MBA. MRTPI
August 1st 2013

IWA branch planning officers are also reminded that their support or opposition for a planning application should reflect IWA policy and views, and not just the personal views of the individual officer, if they are writing on behalf of IWA.