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Full Council Due To Decide Future Format of Planning Committee

Published on: 7 Apr, 2017
Updated on: 10 Apr, 2017

A decision on the future format of the borough council’s Planning Committee, due to be taken by the full council at a meeting next Tuesday (April 11, 2017) and all indications are that it will be approved, despite some disquiet from Tory backbenchers.

Following a review, there is a proposal to slim down the Planning Committee from 23 members to 12 or 15. But when the proposal was debated at the Planning Committee voices from across the political spectrum spoke against the move, particularly because it would remove the direct representation from each of Guildford’s 22 electoral wards.

Normally with 34 Conservative councillors and only a combined total of 14 in the opposition  the Executive should be able to expect to get their proposals easily through a full council meeting. And because at least some opposition members are expected to vote in support of the change any Tory rebellion would need to be of major proportions for the the proposal to fall.

The review report stated: “By redefining the size of the Planning Committee it should allow for an efficient, modern operating committee. This, in turn, should make for more effective, consistent decision-making and an improved and more innovative committee.”

But some councillors question how efficiency will be improved and there are concerns that the motivation for the change is mainly to reduce the chance of planning proposals, recommended for approval by planning officers, being refused by the Planning Committee.

Cllr Nils Christiansen

During the Planning Committee debate on the proposal Cllr Christiansen said: “Our role should be broader [than a professional application of the rules]… because if it is purely a professional role why not move it up to Kingston [Surrey County Council] or to Bristol [Planning Inspectorate office], to a bunch of professionals there? We also have a democratic role and I think we have to be careful that we make sure that we take that into account.

“The ward member typically, hopefully, comes with local knowledge… I don’t have a great deal of knowledge about what happens in some of the villages around the borough because I don’t live there. Generally the ward member does.

“Our decision making is all based on rules but those rules are not black and white, often they are associated with things like the context of the local area…

“Secondly, there is the democratic accountability. I appreciate that this is a quasi-legal body, where we’ve got to follow the rules, but I am not sure that our residents really understand it in quite the same way and I do think that there is merit in them feeling that one of the people that they elected is able to at least talk about the local colour of the application. So I want to be sure that we don’t lose that local accountability, that local knowledge, in doing what we are doing.”

Cllr Matt Sarti

Cllr Sarti added: “I was looking for what’s the business case for the reduction in numbers? There is no real financial business case for us to consider. Reducing it to 12 from 23 doesn’t really save us any money because I don’t cost anything.

“I concur completely with what Cllr Christiansen said about ward representation and I do think we should stick with it. I think that is what the public expect us to do.”

The review report recommends that the Planning Committee is reduced to 12 members. Although party political views are meant to play no part in planning decisions the convention is that the committee reflects the political make up of the council. So, if the committee is reduced to 12 members party representation would be: eight Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats , one Guildford Greenbelt Group and one Labour and if 15 members: ten Conservatives, three Liberal Democrats, one Guildford Greenbelt Group and one Labour.

See also:

Opinion: More Thought Is Required Before Reducing the Size of the Planning Committee

Letter: Planning Committee Changes Should Be Postponed or Moderated

Councillors Disagree Over Proposed Planning Committee Changes

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test 7 Responses to Full Council Due To Decide Future Format of Planning Committee

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 7, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Another blatant attempt by the Executive to silence any dissenting voices against its ‘trajectory’, plain and simple.

  2. Peter Shaw Reply

    April 7, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Am I being too cynical here or is this a way of drowning dissenters in the ranks of the Conservative Councillors?

    Even if there was political proportionality with a smaller planning committee, it would allow the Conservative Executive to nominate the ‘most loyal’ councillors it chooses to those eight or ten seats it would be entitled to. The dissenters would be banished from the committee and so in future it would be more likely that the Executive’s wishes are pushed through the planning process more easily without opposition, especially those strategic sites identified in the Local Plan.

    This could be the efficiency saving that is alluded to at the detriment of democracy and local representation. Shameful.

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    April 7, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    It will be an absolute disaster for democracy if this is pushed through, we only have to look at the way the Aldi fiasco, still ongoing, and the Moorefield Road extension was handled to know there is “trouble at Mill”. Even with the current system is no great shakes.

  4. Helen Jefferies Reply

    April 8, 2017 at 10:51 am

    The Surrey County Council (SCC) election in May is an opportunity to show the Conservatives what voters think, even though it has no bearing on Guildford Borough Council. It should not be forgotten that several councillors are both borough and county councillors and SCC is prone to poor decisions e.g. Newland’s Corner.

  5. Jeff Hills Reply

    April 9, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    If only the public would vote at the elections and vote with their hearts, vote for the candidate and what they stand for, not the party.

    Vote for democracy not party politics.

    They should remember – if they don`t vote they cannot complain.

  6. A Atkinson Reply

    April 11, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Interesting timing between the release of the Reg 19 ready draft local plan and the “debate” tonight for the conservatives to put even more power into the hands of the few with their proposed changes to Planning committee constitution. Good time to bury or deflectionattention away from the dealings of tonights council meeting.

    I have written the names of the conservatives likely to be on the new smaller committee a piece of paper here on my desk – all “yes” men and women, in the pocket of or on the exec who are likely to vote along with whatever the leader of the council wishes and orchestrates behind closed doors.

    Pre prepared speaches are not a sign of predetermnation, just to make sure that points of view are fully expressed, making all the pertenant points. What actually gets presented at the meeting in no way can be used as the full picture of any application at hand and so no-one can be expected to form their entire opinion during the actual committee meeting.

  7. Alan Robertson Reply

    April 12, 2017 at 10:20 am

    All planning committee members should have their personal and business accounts subjected to regular, independent, audits and make public all meetings, meals and other perks they receive from developers and hedge funds.

    Until all temptations are removed, there is little hope of planners acting solely in the best interests of the electorate.

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