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David Radford MRTPI (Rtd): memories of Planning Aid

David RadfordTell us a bit about yourself…

I am David Radford.  I started off in planning as a graduate trainee in the 'old' Devon County Council in 1972 and retired from Teignbridge DC as Area Planning Officer in 2010.  In almost all of my Local Government career I was involved in development control within Devon.

What first encouraged you to get involved in Planning Aid activity?

In 1992 Exeter City Council (ECC) were keen to promote a planning aid service for residents of the city so invited planners and other professionals to attend a launch event.  Following a couple of glasses of wine I signed up!  Over time this became Devon planning aid and then got taken over by South West RTPI as the regional part of the national Planning Aid system.

What was it like volunteering at that time?

Exeter set up a dedicated answerphone line for planning enquiries and the volunteers went onto a rota to interrogate this on a weekly basis.  As usual there were often occasions when the technology failed but generally it worked and ECC had officers who would oversee the system if necessary but without giving PA advice within their own admin area.

Is there an amusing or interesting anecdote from your volunteering activity that you'd be happy to share?

Two in particular for Exeter PA.  On one occasion I was asked to give family planning advice and on another I was asked to confirm that the form 1-11 could be used to obtain reciprocal medical cover in Belgium.  Who says that the public understand the planning system!

Are there any cases or activities that stand out in your memory?

Two cases probably.   On one I was asked to advise a lady who had been served with a Conservation Area enforcement notice where the relevant Authority were alleging that the insertion of rooflights constituted a demolition activity.  I advised on how to appeal on grounds A and C.  The LPA wouldn't drop the case but the Inspector agreed that there had not been a demolition operation so quashed the notice accordingly. [Pins ref T/APP/F/95/K1128/640130]

This case brought it home to me just how much the public need independent advice

This case brought it home to me just how much the public need independent advice separate from their relevant LPA, whether from consultants or PA.

The other involved a traveller who was trying to persuade his LPA to let him set up a small rural travellers site without success.  I gave advice about the content of the then new circular 01/2006 and encouraged him to seek advice from County Highway and Gypsy Liaison officers prior to submitting a formal application.  Unfortunately this case 'died a death' as far as I was concerned as I think that the client went off travelling again!

I suppose that many enquiries that I have dealt with come from people who wanted to know how best to object to development proposals or as an urgent reaction to the receipt of an enforcement notice.

How has volunteering helped your professional development?

I am sure that it has, particularly from the point of view of widening my experience and appreciating planning issues from the point of view of members of the public.  I don't believe that it has had much positive impact on my employment prospects however, but there may well have been other reasons why my career progression was limited.  I am certain however that I have benefited from working with others in the PA system, particularly during my time on the Devon PA management committee with Isabel Diver (solicitor) and Phil Watts, and also under South West Planning Aid with Tim Cox and subsequently Jo Widdecombe.

What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering?

Definitely give it a go as the experience will be very useful to you and it is a significant help to the public.  I do however think that 'bigger is not necessarily better' when it comes to organisation, as in my opinion Devon PA worked very well on an almost completely voluntary basis.