Cumbrian council changes planning committee process following special measures threat

A Cumbrian council has agreed to progress proposals for its planning committee to decide on fewer planning applications in order to reduce the number of successful legal challenges to applications refused for non-valid reasons.

Penrith: part of Eden Council area
Penrith: part of Eden Council area

Eden District Council’s planning committee last month agreed to progress work to change elements in its constitution related to the delegation of planning decisions.

According to a report, a Planning Advisory Service (PAS) review of the operation of the council’s planning committee was carried out last year "in light of the council having been notified by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that it had been put at risk of special measures designation relating to the quality of its planning performance on the determination of major planning applications".

The report said the review recommended that the current ability of members to call in an application for consideration by the committee "can put the reputation of the council at risk, especially if it is not on vitally material planning matters [and] needs urgently reviewing".

The review also said that "clarification of the scheme of delegation is needed", with applications only presented to the committee "when they are clearly in the public interest and there are competing material planning considerations that need to be weighed in the decision making process", the report said.

The report advised that the council’s constitution, in its current form, leaves the local authority "vulnerable to challenge where items are more susceptible to being refused for non-material and valid reasons. This is a frequent occurrence with items on the Planning Committee agenda".

The report said that, in the 2017/2018 financial year, a total of 10 planning appeals were decided by the Planning Inspectorate against refusals to grant planning permission by the council. Four of the appeals were dismissed and six were allowed. In relation to the six appeals that were allowed, four related to decisions made by planning committee members contrary to officer recommendation.

The proposed changes to the constitutions would see most planning decisions delegated to the council’s deputy director of technical services. However, the report outlines five exceptions to this, including where applications for which an approval is sought would be contrary to local policy, or applications of a "controversial or sensitive nature, or which have aroused significant public interest on valid planning grounds".

The report said the views of the planning committee will now be presented to a meeting of the council’s accounts and governance committee, with the matter then being the subject of a final decision by full council.

In December, the government announced that it will continue its special measures programme, which examines the planning performance of local authorities, up until 2020, with the assessment criteria remaining unchanged.

In October, Eden Council adopted its local plan which sets out plans for up to 242 new houses per year in the district up until 2032.

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