Planning decisions to be taken out of Eden councillors’ hands?

Date: Monday 7th January 2019

THE number of planning applications determined by Eden district councillors could be reduced as part of a bid to ensure fewer legal challenges.

A total of 10 planning appeals were decided by the Planning Inspectorate in the 2017-18 financial year against refusals by the council to grant planning permission.

Four were dismissed and six allowed. In relation to those six, four concerned decisions made by the planning committee contrary to officer recommendation.

As well as amending the delegation of decisions process “to prevent unnecessary applications proceeding to planning committee”, Eden Council is also looking to end the ability of councillors to question members of the public speaking at meetings of the committee.

At present, if an objection is lodged by a parish or town council which officers consider to be suitable the matter is automatically put before the committee.

However, it is now proposed that unless the objection is made on “valid planning grounds”, it will not go before councillors.

Having previously been considered in 2017, the process was put on hold pending the outcome of a review which commenced in March.

It stemmed from the council having been notified by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that it had been put at risk of being placed in special measures relating to the quality of its planning performance on the determination of major planning applications.

A report to the planning committee said: “The constitution in its current form leaves the council vulnerable to challenge where items are more susceptible to being refused for non-material and valid reasons.

“This is a frequent occurrence with items on the planning committee agenda. Furthermore, the ability for a single member of the public to ‘call in’ an application without valid planning reason can provide a false hope and expectation to members of the public that an application may be approved or refused, when in fact there is no planning basis or merit for doing so.

“This frequently results in items being put before members of the planning committee to determine where there is no planning judgement or option available.

“In such circumstances, the planning committee faces a situation whereby it is only able to reasonably approve or refuse the recommendation without leaving the council vulnerable to challenge and the potential for awards of costs.”

Councillors had gone against officer recommendations on a number of applications because of objections raised by parish councils and members of the public.

Although the questioning of speakers can provide clarification for councillors, it was accepted it could be intimidating for members of the public and the questioning of speakers was not permitted within other councils.

It was also felt that reducing the number of applications coming to the planning committee would reduce the length of meetings, which could, in turn, encourage public involvement.

The views of the planning committee will now be presented to a meeting of the accounts and governance committee, with the matter then being the subject of a final decision by full council.