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Letter: A Warning About How Key Questions Can Be Quashed in Planning

Published on: 23 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2020

From Sue Wyeth-Price

I wonder how many other residents watched online the special meeting of the Planning Committee on July 8 to discuss an application (19/P/02102) re Land at Manor Farm, The Street, Tongham. Under consideration was the appearance, landscaping, layout and scale in respect of the erection of 254 dwellings and including the creation of open spaces, drainage systems and associated infrastructure.

If I were a resident outside Ash, I would use what happened as a warning of what could come when dealing with the key sites of Wisley, Blackwell Farm, etc.

We were surprised but pleased with the outcome because councillors raised some salient points on energy, parking, the felling of the trees, noise and air quality, disability access and sustainability.

But I was dismayed that Cllr Susan Parker’s [GGG, Send] very valid key questions of the council’s solicitor remained unanswered, despite repeated asking, and she was effectively shut down with no answers provided.

Her questions related to comments in the officer’s report and asked whether the comments were just opinion or the legal position. Having refused the application, it appeared that neither Cllr Parker (proposer), Cllr Barrass (seconder) or Cllr Spooner (ward councillor for Ash South and Tongham) were included in the “huddle” [an informal sub-group] of councillors and advising officers, to agree the wording.

Convention, and the published procedure, for that matter, has it that the huddle includes those councillors, the chair, the officers, and the solicitor (where appropriate). But in this case the views of the councillors, ie the elected representatives, were not included.

There may, or may not, have been consultation after the meeting (how would we know?), but surely these decisions should not be made in private, and especially not by officers alone?

This will inevitably lead to potential allegations that officers may be “picking and choosing” grounds which could be easily dismissed at appeal, thus gaining the result they recommended in the first place, namely approval. This alone is a justification for more rigour and transparency in the way decisions are reached at the Planning Committee.

I hope the residents in the east of the borough take a long hard look at the way this was treated, in advance of the anticipated onslaught of applications that will surely hit them, now that the western end has been plundered.

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test 3 Responses to Letter: A Warning About How Key Questions Can Be Quashed in Planning

  1. John Ferns Reply

    July 23, 2020 at 11:11 pm

    This application has been an utter disaster for the GBC planning department from start in 2016 to the finish in 2020. GBC, now deservedly, are likely to receive yet another appeal by the developers.

    It is little wonder that the planning committee reversed the officers’ recommendation to proceed. And the committee, at that stage, was not even aware of the dysfunctionality that existed within the GBC/SCC project management teams in coordinating three things: the infrastructure work required to mitigate the highways issues, the management of funding already obtained, and the project milestones that should have been attained.

    It is expected that hard lessons will have been learned from this debacle and a tighter rein will be maintained on all future “projects” related to contentious planning applications.

  2. Julian Cranwell Reply

    July 24, 2020 at 9:01 am

    Many thanks to Sue Wyeth-Price for this warning. We had hoped for an improved planning process, with the exit of Tracey Coleman, but it appears these hopes were ill-founded.

    Interesting though to see Cllr Spooner cooperating with GGG, which must be a first.

  3. Harry Eve Reply

    July 24, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    I have listened to the webcast but I must admit my concentration was divided so it is possible that I misunderstood a key point concerning public transport provision. It seems that at the time of the appeal there was a bus service and prospects of improvement.

    Apparently, the bus service has since been withdrawn and there is no prospect of it being restored. Surely that is a highly relevant change of circumstances that ought to lead to the appeal decision being reversed if the planning system is serious about sustainability.

    I realise that is beyond the scope of GBC but surely it ought to be documented in such a way that the issue can be raised in examination, if the decision is appealed.

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