Friday, 6 May 2005

A web of illiteracy and officialdom: welcome to Hackney planning

From Building Design:

All architects will be familiar with the frustration of dealing with local planning departments, so perhaps readers will take pity on a fellow professional who has had a three-month battle with Hackney Council over photocopied signatures and illiterate officialese.

In January, Charles Thomson of Rivington Street Studio was bewildered to discover that a planning application he had submitted was invalid because the signature on it was photocopied, which the council claimed did not constitute a legal document.

He wrote back saying: “Can you confirm to me where you ask for a unique signature and how you determine whether a signature is unique or not? Is this a visual analysis or do you have a specialist piece of equipment? Are you familiar with either a) the attempts by Hackney to develop a user-friendly planning department, or b) the works of Kafka?

“I am enclosing 20 individually signed copies of the front page of the planning application (on the basis that you will almost certainly need more than the three requested, that you may want to verify the signature and that you can afford to lose half the pages and still have spare copies).”

In a separate letter, he wrote to Hackney’s head of planning, Sue Foster, to complain about spelling and grammatical errors in the council’s original letter.

Thomson wrote: “Our postcode is misspelt (not a big issue). ‘Vehicular’ is spelt ‘velicular’. ‘Advise’ is spelt ‘advice’. As this is presumably a computer-generated letter, spelling should be correct. You state ‘your application is invalid for the following reason(s)’ and then don’t give the reasons. The wording, also presumably computer-generated, is ‘application forms in original ink, signature, not photocopied’. This is not grammatical and could mean a) that all copies of the form have to be completed in original ink or b) that none of the forms should be completed in original ink.”

At the time of going to press, Thomson had yet to receive a response. He said: “Bureaucracy in the system allows for poorly written documents to be passed through from planners and they use these rather peculiar devices from time to time as a way of apparently just trying to delay the whole process.”

Hackney Council refused to comment.

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