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Letter: Planning Committee Changes Should Be Postponed or Moderated

Published on: 28 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 28 Mar, 2017

From Julian Lyon

Chairman of the Guildford Society

There are more than 50% of people in Guildford Borough who do not have a parish council to look after local interests. We rely on some active neighbours, residents’ groups and local issue groups like The Guildford Society, and our ward councillors (all of whom sacrifice large amounts of time on our behalf) to come up with ideas, scrutinise applications and to ensure the delivery of crucial services and democracy.

We are already concerned about the remoteness and disconnection of the Design Panel from Guildford and our residents; we already have concerns over the commissioning, cohesiveness and interpretation of key reports in our Evidence Base [compiled to support the Local Plan]; and we are apparently relatively powerless (short of civil disobedience) to have a voice without hearing the riposte that we “have not been elected”.

Guildford Borough Council wants to create efficiencies in its planning process – this may be interpreted as the planning portfolio-holding leader of the council wanting greater control, but, in my view, that is missing the point.  We are likely to have some substantial awards for costs on appeals where the council officers have recommended an application be approved and the councillors on the Planning Committee have voted for refusal.

The problem is born out of two unfortunate circumstances: (1) we have no up to date Local Plan – the current and previous leadership have, rightly in my opinion (without necessarily liking the plan), pressed on with trying to get a Local Plan in place; (2) even the current draft Local Plan does not include the development management policies that would give planning control back to officers and councillors – this second part of the Local Plan is scheduled for adoption in 2020.

The solution, it seems to me, lies in the reconnection of local communities and councillors with the planning strategies and processes that have seemed so remote over the past decade or so, and the Localism Act has provided some solutions, as Burpham has found.

We should embrace Neighbourhood Planning as the government’s clarification Bill makes its passage through the House of Commons.  Our neighbourhoods (whether small scale or large) can determine the future shape of their area and earn the right to be a statutory consultee on planning applications in or affecting their neighbourhood.

Only when we have the extra, local, protection of democratic rights should the council be allowed to reduce the membership of planning committees below one ward councillor per electoral ward.

In other words, the councillors who will shortly be required to decide whether to reduce the size of the Planning Committee should vote to give more power to the neighbourhoods rather than concentrating the power with a few hand-picked councillors.

They should, at least, rule that (1) no ward without a statutorily-recognised third tier (parish council or neighbourhood plan area) should lose its councillor from the Planning Committee, and (2) that the third tier and a councillor from an unrepresented ward councillor should each have a guaranteed speaking slot at a Planning Committee meeting without restriction to the usual speaker’s three minutes in respect of any application they consider may affect their ward.

Finally, the notion that an application should need to have more than the current ten letters of objection before triggering referral to the Planning Committee is, frankly, wrong. In the modern age, perhaps we should not be thinking of objection letters as if they are tweets or retweets – easily and casually done.

We also need to recognise that groups like the Guildford Society respond to applications in the knowledge that we mostly speak on behalf of 400 or so members, and yet a GSoc letter counts only as one of those representations. Are we going to have to set up a cadre of letter-writers, overburdening the system with unnecessary letters, just to get a voice in an increasingly selective planning application process?

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test 2 Responses to Letter: Planning Committee Changes Should Be Postponed or Moderated

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    March 29, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Why should a system that has worked well for decades be changed now ?

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    March 29, 2017 at 9:50 am

    A most sensible and rational argument and a solution to this attempt to disenfranchise the community.

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