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Councillors Disagree Over Proposed Planning Committee Changes

Published on: 9 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 10 Mar, 2017

A proposal to reduce the number of councillors on the Guildford Borough Council Planning Committee from 23 to just 12 provoked some disagreement between councillors last night (March 8).

A majority eventually agreed to put forward a compromise of a reduction to 15 to the Standards and Governance Committee and full council for approval.

The size reduction proposal follows a review conducted with the objective of modernising the Planning Committee and its processes. To date, 23 councillors, including the chairman, have formed the committee to allow representation from each of the borough’s 22 wards.

Views have been expressed that part of the intention is to exclude those who seem to contribute little and some of the more “rebellious” councillors but the Planning Committee is a quasi judicial body which is reminded each time it sits that councillors should make their decisions on planning issues independent of any party political consideration.

According to the review group’s report: “The general feeling is that a reduction in the number of councillors would produce a more professional/expert committee, allow for more focused debate, and the ability to conduct business with greater efficiency and effectiveness.”

And the group concluded that: “…there would be real benefit in reducing the size of the Planning Committee from 23 councillors to 12 councillors, in line with many other local authorities.”

The allocation of seats to the political groups on a committee of 12 would be: 8 Conservatives, 2 Liberal Democrats, 1 Guildford Greenbelt Group and 1 Labour. But under the suggested compromise of a reduction to 15 members the break down would be: 10 Conservatives, 3 Liberal Democrats, 1 Guildford Greenbelt Group and 1 Labour.

Among other changes proposed, and left unchanged, were: an increase to the requirement for 20 letters of objection, instead of 10, to trigger a Planning Committee hearing, for all larger non householder applications; disallowing councillors from using prepared speeches, in case there is an appearance of bias and predetermination.

Cllr Paul Spooner

No changes were proposed to the public speaking arrangements which will remain as two speaking for and two speaking against any proposal, with three minutes for each speaker.

Planning Committee meetings will continue to be held on Wednesdays at 7pm.

Leader of the council and lead member for planning, Paul Spooner, said today (March 9): “As a member of the review group as well as leader and lead member for planning I clearly support the initiative to improve committee and process and I found the debate last night very useful.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Caroline Reeves, leader of the opposition and the Lib Dem group said: “The Lib Dem members didn’t all agree on all of the changes – as was obvious from the debate, but most of us agreed with the suggested changes to the process of the committee.

“If the committee is to be reduced in numbers, a change to 15 members is a fairer political balance based on percentages for us than 12, and a reduction in the numbers of members will mostly impact on the Conservatives.

“The recommendations suggested last night will be discussed again at the Corporate Governance and Standards committee, and then have to be voted on at full Council before they can be implemented.”

Susan Parker, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group at GBC said: “The link between councillors and wards is lost with the reduction of the number of councillors and this is a potential disaster.

Cllr Susan Parker

“This new structure means that appointment to the planning committee becomes a political appointment. Such appointments will be within the gift of the Tory leadership – it will no longer be a function of the ward a councillor represents. This gives much more political control over the planning process to the lead party.

“Given the party control already exercised over the Local Plan process, this is a very serious concern. It means that the Executive will dominate the planning committee and manage its decision-making, along with all other areas of local government.

“For those concerned over strategic sites, the erosion of our countryside and the direction of local government, this means that the Executive will determine local planning decisions as well as the overall direction of the Plan. This is centralised control run mad.”

This article may be developed with other councillor comment. Please check back.

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Responses to Councillors Disagree Over Proposed Planning Committee Changes

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    March 9, 2017 at 9:00 am

    All a rather obvious ploy to disenfranchise the wards where they want to build new towns despite not showing exceptional circumstances and breaching the National Planning Policy Framework.

    The strategy is that once you’ve lost the argument the next move is to “tear out the tongues” of anyone who disagrees by removing them from the decision process.

    The fig leaf that it will make the Planning Committee more professional is a sick joke. It is quite obviously not a professional body. Most of its members have no planning qualifications. Many of them make overtly political statements – usually with regard to development outside their own wards.

    The whole point of the Planning Committee is to represent the places where development takes place. Without that element of representation the whole process might just as well be turned over to a development “court” or planning inspector i.e. abolish the committee altogether.

    Perhaps we are in the early stages of Guildford Borough Council putting all decisions into hands of a “Committee of Public Safety”. Robespierre had greater justification and talent – but the results were still a disaster.

  2. Peter Shaw Reply

    March 9, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    23 councillors are supposed to equate to a councillor per ward, plus an additional seat for the chair. With this change how will the council ensure all wards are being represented fairly, will the councillors on the committee be permanent or will they be allowed to revolve or sub in/out depending on what is on the agenda?

  3. John Robson Reply

    March 10, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Seems logical – the vast majority of planning applications will be within Guildford’s urban and immediate surrounding areas.

    To ensure proportional and “fair” representation from all parties within the committee, maybe Conservative councillors from the wards on the periphery of the borough, such as Ash, should be excluded from this process.

    If this could be achieved I’m all for streamlining.

  4. Lisa Wright Reply

    March 10, 2017 at 11:34 am

    After opposing the Conservatives with regard to the recent SANG application in Wood Street Village and living up to his pledge of “protecting the “green belt” I wonder if Cllr Bob McShee will be getting the chop?

  5. Keith Childs Reply

    March 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    The Planning Committee is quasi-judicial and therefore strictly non party political. The political party which a member of the committee belongs to, is completely irrelevant. The allocation of places on the committee on a party basis in order that membership, reflects the party balance on the council itself is illogical and unjustifiable.

    Furthermore the loss of one member for each ward is regrettable. It is at variance with the essence of local representation.

    Keith Childs is a former councillor and Hon Alderman

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