Perhaps planning is now too important to be left to councillors?

Copied from local Government Chronicle online
Fenland urged to end planning ‘perception of undue influence’
22 May, 2014 | By Mark Smulian

A district is to overhaul its planning service after being told it needs to end perceptions of bias by councillors.

Fenland DC’s new leader John Clark (Con) said the service would be revamped following a peer review report’s recommendations.

The district is a rapidly growing area with 11,000 new homes due by 2034, but has struggled to handle planning applications.

This included a controversy in 2012 when then leader Alan Melton (Con) sacked the entire planning committee after it rejected officers’ advice and gave both Tesco and Sainsbury’s planning permission for stores on adjacent sites.

All committee members have since had to undertake training from the government’s Planning Advisory Service.

The peer review, which was undertaken by the Planning Advisory Service and the LGA was published last week.

It said: “We were told by a number of [stakeholders] that there existed a perception of undue influence over application decision making.

“A phrase that captures the concerns of some is that on at least some occasions some councillors acted as the planning agent’s spokesman.”

No evidence of corruption was offered but “even the perception of inappropriate influence undermines the objectivity and integrity of the planning decision making process”.

Separation of the “political versus operational is important to councillors, managers, staff and users and stakeholders of the planning service”, they noted. The report said the high number of successful appeals against Fenland was “an indicator of some weak decision making at planning committee”.

Reviewers were startled to find that monthly planning committee meetings took up to seven hours to deal with an average of 12 applications, including “a tea break while the public look on”. They recommended smaller applications should be handled by officers.

Cllr Clark said: “We know there are areas we need to improve. We are pleased that they have recognised some of the good work we have done and are now looking to put their recommendations into practice as speedily as possible.”

It’s called throwing the baby out with the bath water

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I can’t believe that these councillors can be so naïve as to think they would gain support from the planning puppet master, Nick Boles. How can they not realise that the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) is simply doing what it is told by DCLG and it’s current incumbents, Eric Pickles and the hyperactive Nick Boles? They in turn, are of course under the thumb of George Osborne, who seems to believe that building hundreds of thousands of houses,min a short space of time, will be the saviour of the UK economy.
If you want to improve things in planning terms, don’t throw out what’s been proven to work over many years, instead, get rid of the ‘external elements’ that are undermining it.

PINS fulfils a vital role, by addressing the sometimes aberrant behaviour of some planning departments and their associated planning committees. How else would an applicant, with a perfectly reasonable planning proposal, gain redress against a council that had refused that application, despite it being in compliance with both local and national planning policies?

Until you can be sure that elected members will always behave in a totally professional and unbiased manner, when considering an application and that planning officers will get it right every time, PINS will continue to be an essential element of the planning system.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Leader urges Planning Inspectorate abolition
12 March, 2014 | By Mark Smulian

A council leader has called for abolition of the Planning Inspectorate after being sent a “bitterly disappointing” letter by planning minister Nick Boles.

A delegation of North Devon DC councillors (pictured) led by local MP Sir Nick Harvey (Lib Dem) handed in a letter at 10 Downing Street and met Mr Boles to highlight problems created by government planning policy on their community.

Council leader Brian Greenslade (Lib Dem) said that while the minister had been encouraging when they met his follow-up letter was short, unhelpful and evasive.

“I think he was got at by civil servants after our meeting,” Cllr Greenslade said.

The council delegation, led by local MP Sir Nick Harvey (Lib Dem), raised concerns about the refusal of planning inspectors to count inactive sites with planning permission towards councils’ required five-year land supply for housebuilding, and inspectors’ habit of substituting their own decisions for those of councils.

North Devon also objected to proposals to deprive councils of the New Homes Bonus where planning permission is given only after an appeal to inspectors.

“We were all bitterly disappointed with the short response from the planning minister, who avoided all of our main points, despite making positive comments to our councillors at the time of the meeting,” Cllr Greenslade said.

He added: “We believe that the localism agenda and the restoration of democracy to planning will be greatly enhanced if Mr Pickles were to follow the example he set when he scrapped the Audit Commission by also scrapping the Planning Inspectorate.

“I understand this is a course of action favoured by a number of Conservative MPs.”

Attack!…. my response

09 May 2013
Re- The Proposed Incinerator development at Wingland/ Sutton Bridge

NOTES:
The constant reference to this application being for an incinerator, are disingenuous and clearly designed to be inflammatory, in the hope of whipping up the maximum support for the objectors’ statements.
An incinerator is designed for one purpose and one purpose only; to burn waste. The power station to be built at Sutton Bridge, will be burning unused wood, not waste wood. It is designed to generate electricity, not to dispose of waste, as in the case of an incinerator.

Mr Gambba – Jones,

I listened to the deliberations at the meeting held 17th April with dis-belief at your dismissive attitude to the objections of the proposed development; frankly it stank of nepotism, corruption, ignorance of facts and public opinions and, it seemed to be just a money making opportunity for certain individuals, plus the promoters and SHDC. But I came away hoping that you and your committee would see sense and ultimately reject the proposal. How wrong can one be?

For dismissive, substitute focussed and endeavouring to ensure that only relevant material planning considerations are discussed and used to determine the application, by the planning committee.
All the planning related facts were made available to committee members in the officer’s report. All other related documents, used by the officers to arrive at the recommendation, were available for committee members to read if they had any concerns regarding the information provided to them in the report.
Nepotism is about giving favourable treatment to a family member. I’m not aware of committee members with family connections to this development, as this would have been declared at the start of the meeting and the member would of left the chamber.
Corruption – any proof of that sir? Likewise, money making for individuals and SHDC?

As Chairman of SHDC’s planning committee, you are ultimately responsible for results and repercussions of the decisions of your committee, but it appears that you are being guided and/or manipulated by certain people and the promoters of the project, all of whom appear to have personal gain as their objective.

As chairman of the committee, my role is to keep good order, avoid time wasting through discussion of irrelevant matters and to ensure, as best I can, that the decision reached by the committee is sound and defendable should it go to appeal.
The committee is most certainly guided and in some respects manipulated, by the policies and guidance handed down to us by national government, the latest of this being the NPPF. Locally, SHDC has an adopted Local Plan, that is the basis (guide) for all our planning decisions.
All commercial developments are built for profit and some form of personal gain for those investing in the development.

How you can be so mis-guided by recently re-elected councillors who have lots to say about this project, but no conviction to vote either one way or the other, but just to leave all their options open for themselves defies belief, they are hypocrites in their own right and as such should be ignored.

Recently re-elected members? All members of the planning committee receive training in order to ensure that they understand the policies that must be used when determining planning applications. As such, the experience of the committee members is not nearly as important as their understanding of our planning policies and the national guidance.

At last nights meeting you again ignored the feelings and objections of the electorate (who ultimately pay your salary) and others, of how this development would affect the wellbeing of residents of Wingland, Sutton Bridge and beyond by bulldozing this approval through, all it seems for the price of land which I am led to believe SHDC currently owns.

Unfortunately, the planning process makes no allowance for the feelings or objections of objectors, unless these clearly relate to material planning issues. Likewise, we are not allowed to take the potential devaluing of property values into consideration when determining an application.
I and others on the committee are elected members and as such, do not receive a salary. SHDC has NO financial interest in the Wingland site and does not own any of the land allocated.

The big question is; how commercially viable is this project without government subsidies? It would appear that it is not commercially viable and as such will in time become a “white elephant” all at the expense of the tax payer and to the detriment of local residents. Probably leaving an enormous bill that SHDC will have to pick up.

In planning terms, this is no question at all. It is not for SHDC, or the planning dept, to judge the viability of any development.
There is no reason why SHDC, or the taxpayers, should suffer any financial losses should this power station project fail.

Sleep well Mr Gambba-Jones in the knowledge that your actions are making some members of your electorate very ill, they live in fear of health issues and devaluation of their properties and, that because of your decision making, you are probably at this time one of the most mistrusted and disliked people in South Lincolnshire. It is probably best that you resign your position.

It’s most unfortunate that residents if are making themselves ill worrying about issues that currently have no evidence to back them up. As stated previously, property values cannot be taken in to account when determining a planning application. I have no intention of considering my position. I am but one member of the committee. Just because I happen to be the chairman, doesn’t mean that I have any greater power, or influence, than any other member of the committee when it comes to the vote.

I don’t expect a reply because if I were you, I would not know where to begin!

As you will see from the above responses,I have no problem with knowing where to begin.

Jim Stalley – resident Sutton Bridge

Tear up all planning policies, then blame councils for the lack!

The government are looking at how to introduce a transition period to give councils time to produce a local plan, but they are resisting any attempt to introduce a reasonable time period for doing so. One excuse given by one of their tame peers, is that councils have had 8 years to produce plans, but the majority still haven’t, so why give them any more time now?

This reasoning, which is actually no reasoning at all, but simply a smoke-screen for wanting to get their own way as soon as possible, ignores the fact that the whole process of plan making is extremely complicated and highly expensive. It also ignores the fact that, until recently, councils could use the default position of using the national policies detailed in planning policy guidance and statements. Unless there was pressing need, such as special local circumstances, why would a council spend large amounts of their taxpayers money producing a local plan?

Successive governments have lulled councils in to what now appears to be a false sense of security, by burying them under multiple layers of planning policy and guidance, for the last 60+ years. Now the current government is throwing all that policy in the bin and then blaming councils for not having any of their own policies. Just to add insult to injury, the government has now produced the sloppily worded NPPF, as a replacement for all that planning policy, with a statement in it designed to ‘punish’ councils that don’t have their own policies; where a plan is silent, indeterminate or out of date, planning permission should be given without delay.

The double whammy of no plan and no time to produce one, is potentially as damaging as the presumption in favour statement that we are all getting so hot and bothered about. I hope as much effort is put into getting a sensible timescale put in place, as has been expended to date, in exposing the NPPF as a flawed document.

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