Delegated Arrangements and the Planning Guarantee (Agenda Item 14)
Report of the Executive Members for Planning & Environmental Services and Assets & Strategic Development.
The Planning Manager presented the report and explained that changes in Government legislation made it likely that in future Local Authorities would have to determine applications within six months (including completing legal agreements) or face paying back the fee.
If the application then went to appeal the authority might also have to pay additional costs because of the delay. Looking at the previous year’s figures, the Council would have had to pay back about £190,000 in fess which equated to over 16% of all income from planning applications.
In cases where it was clear that negotiations were going to be lengthy the Council and applicant would need to agree a bespoke timetable. As long as a formal agreement could be reached, the figures for those applications would be taken out of the statistical returns.
These changes were being brought in by the Government to support their Growth Agenda. However, they might prove to be counter-intuitive if they caused applications to be refused due to lack of information. The Council needed to put a process in place to ensure that applications could be dealt with quickly. The Planning Committee should only deal with contentious and major applications.
Not all Major applications were contentious and it was proposed that those that were not and that did not have significant strategic implications should not need to be determined by the Committee.
Currently all applications by Members or staff also came to Committee. In future it was proposed that all Member applications should continue to do so for transparency. However, applications by members of staff that had no direct interaction with the Planning Officers should not. There would be a need to manage public perception and any applications by Senior Managers would still automatically be referred to Committee. It was noted that by bringing every member of staff application to the Committee it actually gave an opportunity for the staff member to address the Committee on applications recommended for refusal, giving them a perceived ‘advantage’ over other members of the public who did not get that opportunity.
With regard to Member Call-Ins, the Planning Manager said it was important to record the reason why an application was called in to Committee and also to record why that request was accepted or declined. The proposed forms, if adopted, would be kept as an audit trail.
In conclusion he advised Members that over the past 12 months, if the new scheme had been in use, only about a dozen applications would not have come to Committee. All of those had been approved unanimously, usually without any discussion at all. They tended to have been applications for large agricultural buildings such as onion stores or poultry units, which had come to the Committee due to their size.
He sought Members’ views on the proposals.
Councillor North thought it was a very good document and that the Member Call-In Form was the right thing to have to provide transparency.
Councillor Carter asked if the work of the Committee would be reduced and was advised that it should give them more time to deal with the more contentious applications, of which there had been 48 during the past year.
Councillor Lamb asked if a contentious application was one with objections and was advised that that was not the case. Currently applications recommended for approval, contrary to Policy were referred to Committee and also those that were significant or locally contentious. It was key to note that what might be significant in a small village, with only two or three objections, would not be the same in a town centre, where more objections would be required.
Councillor Lamb asked how Public Inquiries fitted into the new timescales and the Planning Manager advised that appeals would also only have six months to be determined and would therefore reach the Inquiry stage more quickly.
It was clarified that the Call-In form would only be used by Members requesting an application be heard at Committee and that there would be no requirement for a counter-signature.
Councillor Carter asked whether the change was just an attempt to reach targets and the Planning Manager acknowledged that targets still needed to be met but said that it was more about performance and how major applications were dealt with and the number that were overturned at appeal. Of the 48 major applications that were dealt with on average per year, very few went to appeal, but if only a couple of those were overturned it affected the Council’s performance figures.
Councillor Bambridge was concerned that it was a move towards reducing democracy which he would not want to see go any further and which he requested should be under constant review. He also noted that sometimes a Ward Member might want an application to come to Committee but there might not be strict planning reasons for that request. He suggested that it might speed the process up if the Council offered more pre-application consultation, which could be charged for at a reasonable rate.
The Chairman acknowledged that some applications were finely balanced and he clarified that he had not said that ‘strict’ planning reasons were needed to support a request, but there did need to be planning reasons.
The Planning Manager agreed and said that with contentious issues, transparency might be a good enough reason, but he warned against raising unrealistic expectations if there were no good planning reasons.
He drew attention to paragraph 1.12 of the report and explained that it was not yet clear whether the six months given to determine an application before having to pay back the fee included the period until any legal agreement was signed. Sometimes that was delayed by the applicant and in those cases the Council would need to enter into a Planning Performance Agreement or a Post-Application Agreement to take those applications out of the statistics and avoid having to repay the fee.
Councillor Carter was not keen to charge householders for pre-application advice, although he could support charging developers for the more technical advice they might require.
Councillor North asked how much officer time would be saved by not bringing some applications to Committee and was advised that as it would equate to only about one less application per meeting it was not that much time, however there were occasions when an additional site visit might have been required to take specific photographs and that could be time consuming and resource hungry. Overall it could equate to about half a day of officer time saved.
RESOLVED to RECOMMEND TO COUNCIL that:
(1) the amendments to the Council’s Delegated Arrangements, as set out in Appendix One of the report, be approved; and
(2) the Ward Member Call-In protocols contained in the revised Delegation Arrangements and the use of the Ward Member Call-In Request Form (set out in Appendix Two of the report) be approved.