Chairman's Panel (Agenda item 8)
Report by Simon Wood, Director of Planning & Building Control.
Simon Wood, Director of Planning & Building Control presented the report and provided Members with an update in respect of the Chairman’s Panel.
The key points were highlighted.
Members were reminded that the Chairman’s Panel was instigated as a result of a Peer Review carried out by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) in 2018. Panel meetings were then introduced in August 2019.
The aims of the Panel were explained, one of which was to reduce the (then) large number of applications being considered at Planning Committees.
It was clear that the Panel process had significantly reduced the average number of applications on a Planning Committee agenda and thus enabled the Committee to focus on key strategic applications as well as applications that had realised significant policy issues or matters of local interest.
The number of applications considered at the Chairman’s Panel meetings up until June 2021 was highlighted (see section 1.5 of the report).
It was noted that the Panel only regulates the decision-making process, and that it did not decide planning applications. It makes a ruling on the route an application should take based on its significance or call-in requests.
Members were informed that the Panel meetings would remain virtual for the foreseeable future but that this would be kept under review.
Attention was drawn to the flow chart attached to the agenda that gave an indication of how the application process was carried out (page 15 of the agenda pack).
Councillor Atterwill had been sceptical about the Chairman’s Panel at the start but felt that they were working well and he was pleased that the meetings would continue to be held virtually, as it gave all Members the opportunity to dial in when an application, they were interested in was being discussed. He mentioned the call-in process where Members had a 23-day window for an application to be considered by the Panel from the date the application was validated on the Breckland portal and suggested that if an application was subsequently changed and sent out for further consultation, Members should then have another opportunity, at that point, to call it in again. He also mentioned that he had never been included on the Panel’s roster and would like to partake in future.
In terms of the latter point, Becky Harris, the Planning Technical Support Officer, in attendance had already noted this request and Planning Members were advised to make contact with Becky if they had not been included on the roster for some unknown reason.
In terms of the call-in process, the Director of Planning & Building Control explained that on balance, it had been concluded that a 23-day window was a sufficient amount of time for Members, Parishes and residents to look at an application and take a view as to whether or not they had any concerns they wished to raise. The difficulty of having a second opportunity was that it was very difficult from an administration point of view; however, if a call-in deadline had been missed, Members were asked to contact him or the Planning Technical Support Officer for further advice on how this application should be progressed.
As a Member of the Chairman’s Panel, Councillor Wickerson agreed that such meetings had worked quite well, but felt that the point needed to be reinforced that Members were not there to discuss the detail of applications but were just there to discuss the route it should take. Referring to the last sentence of section 1.12 of the report he asked on how many occasions the Executive Director of Place & Delivery or his delegated representative had overruled the decision of the Panel.
Mr Horn, the Solicitor of the Council advised that those precise figures could be made available to Members after the meeting. He pointed out however, that it was very rare for the views of the Panel to be overruled.
The Director of Planning & Building Control believed it had only happened on about 4 occasions since the instigation of the Panel.
The Chairman advised that the Solicitor had only overruled the Panel on a very small number of occasions when he had an underlying and significant difference with the view of the Panel Members. In respect of discussing the merits of an application, he explained that on occasions, at were at times circumstances when the Panel needed to discuss applications in more detail.
Councillor Clarke referred to the outcome of the Chairman’s Panel where it had been decided to delegate an application and this was subsequently taken to appeal on a delegated refusal. He asked if a list could be created to establish if there was any pattern in terms of the ultimate outcome of the appeals process. The Director of Planning & Building Control felt that it would be useful to have such a list but at the moment, Breckland Council’s record on appeals was very good.
Councillor Duigan asked what was considered as an application of strategic significance, as no criteria were available to precisely define this, and it was, in his opinion quite subjective.
Members were informed that if a definition was put in place, it would remove the flexibility and each application was considered on its own merits, as significant applications could come in many forms. The Solicitor explained that if he ever felt that an application could be of strategic significance or contentious, his default position in the absence of any other overriding factors was that such an application should be considered by the Planning Committee.
Referring to Councillor Atterwill’s views about the Panel, the Chairman agreed that some Members had been sceptical at the Panel’s inception, but all those Members who had attended such meetings had contacted him stating that they had been surprised as to how transparent the Panel meetings were and how well they had worked and that this was the way forward.
Councillor Atterwill felt that the key word was ‘transparency’ and that accordingly the virtual meetings should remain.
The report was otherwise noted.