Planning a change?

Date: Monday 7th January 2019

THE planning function is the most contentious of the services provided by local government. Whether consideration is being given to proposals for hundreds of houses or, at the other end of the scale, an extension to a single property, the chances are that somebody will not be happy.

It is vital, therefore, that there is an opportunity for the public to air their views and, at the moment, that role is fulfilled in Eden by the district council’s planning committee.

Residents are able to attend meetings at which applications which have attracted objections are discussed by councillors, and there is a transparency about the decision-making.

There are moves, however, to streamline the planning process in the district which could result in fewer decisions remaining in councillors’ hands. This is because of successful appeals to the Planning Inspectorate in the instances of some applications which have been refused by councillors against the advice of council officers, leading to the potential award of costs against the authority.

Nobody wants to see public money being squandered. But when it comes to planning, issues are rarely plain and simple. Ask two legal experts and they could well have different views on the same matter.

In addition, there remains a perception among parish councils in Eden that their views are already ignored when it comes to planning decisions, and the suggested amendments could leave them further out on a limb.

It would be a disaster for public confidence in the planning system if, for instance, details of the three new villages element of the Penrith masterplan, over which there is much concern among residents, were approved without councillor input because they were acceptable in purely planning terms.

The present system might not be perfect, but at least it is one in which representatives of the public get to play a leading role.