Beware of the Leopard -Vogon Planning Revisited

If you’ve never experienced Vogons all will be explained in a minute.

I’ve just had a visit from a neighbour in a mild state of distress, “have you seen the letter from the planning department about next door?”…….. The planned development isn’t a big deal, it was the rules on how you can view the application that distressed my neighbour.

If you are prepared to travel 15 miles, find a pay parking space, between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, within the next two weeks, you can view the application without an appointment. Hurrah! Unfortunately standard public service ‘office hours’ aren’t convenient for my neighbour (or lots of other people with jobs).

Conveniently the planners gave instructions on alternative options for viewing the
application, that must made, by prior appointment (underlined in bold!). Here goes:

  • Mondays 5-6pm at the ‘call in centre 15 miles away’. Appointments must be made by 5pm on Thursdays before by contacting a Customer Services Advisor (number provided).
  • Thursdays, between 9am and 5pm at the ‘call in centre 30 miles away’, or between 1pm an 5pm at an obscure library 16 miles away.
  • Final instruction. An appointment to view plans at either of these offices should be made at least 48 hours in advance by contacting the above named officer.
I know more about planning applications in Brighton than next door
I know more about planning applications in Brighton than next door

I promise,none of the above is made up. I’m really confused now: offices, libraries, contact centers, call in centers, named officers, times to make appointments, times to visit, different locations ………… arrrgggh! My head hurts!
No wonder the neighbour was distressed and by now had formed the opinion, “What are they hiding? All I want to do is to see where the barn will be and how big it is?”.

This transported me back 33 years to 1978 and the Douglas Adams creation, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy  HHGTTG.  Lots is made of the Vogon planning consultation but what this really reminded of was the conversation Arthur Dent had with the Council Official, Mister Prosser, who wanted to demolish his house for a bypass:

MISTER PROSSER: But Mister Dent the plans have been available in the planning office for the last nine months!

ARTHUR DENT: Yes! I went round to find them yesterday afternoon. You’d hadn’t
exactly gone out of your way to pull much attention to them have you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.

MISTER PROSSER: The plans were on display.

ARTHUR DENT: Ah! And how many members of the public are in the habit of casually dropping around the local planning office of an evening?


ARTHUR DENT: It’s not exactly a noted social venue is it? And even if you had popped in on the off chance that some raving bureaucrat wanted to knock your house down, the plans weren’t immediately obvious to the eye were they?

MISTER PROSSER: That depends where you were looking.

ARTHUR DENT: I eventually had to go down to the cellar!

MISTER PROSSER: That’s the display department.

ARTHUR DENT: With a torch!

MISTER PROSSER: The lights, had… probably gone.

ARTHUR DENT: So had the stairs!

MISTER PROSSER: Well you found the notice didn’t you?

ARTHUR DENT: Yes. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”. Ever thought of going into advertising?

I’m not convinced we’ve moved on much in the past 30 years. Then again there are
organisations like Brighton and Hove Council who have site plans accessible on their website, so it’s not technically impossible then…..

Perhaps the local planning department should come clean and admit that they have been infiltrated by the Vogons.  Douglas Adams describes them beautifully……. “Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found,  subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.”  Sound like anyone you know?

So what’s the PONT?

  1. In the digital age, surely we can scan these applications so that people can view them online?
  2. Public service ‘opening hours’ aren’t convenient for my neighbour,or most people with jobs. (Traveling to a remote location at inconvenient times doesn’t work either.)
  3. Why are the planning services more accessible and customer focused in some areas than others?

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy quotes:

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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