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Column 5th June 2019

An interesting first planning meeting with a new council

It was the first Planning meeting of the new District Council last week.

Six of the Councillors attending the meeting had not attended a planning committee before but we were informed that all had attended training.

Local planning authorities (like the Vale of the White Horse District Council) have planning officers to assist with the operation of the planning system. Note the word “assist”.

Officers have had much more training than councillors and understand the rules and regulations which apply to planning but don’t have the responsibility for taking decisions.

The decision making powers are vested in our Councillors but they can delegate these powers to the Head of Planning.

Most minor, uncontroversial planning applications will be decided through delegated decision-taking powers, which means they are dealt with by local planning authority officers without the input of the Councillors responsible.

Larger and more controversial applications are often decided by Councillors at a planning committee, informed by officers’ recommendations. These could include:

  • Any application “called in” by the local ward councillor.
  • Any application which the Head of Planning, in consultation with the Committee Chairman, considers needs Committee consideration.
  • Any application which is recommended for approval and would represent a significant departure from the local plan or the views of a technical statutory consultee (e.g. the County Highway Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England).
  • Any outline or full application for a major development (200 or more homes) where the principle of development on the site has not been determined.
  • Any applications for 10 or more homes or sites over a hectare in size where an objection on material planning grounds is received from the town or parish council or parish meeting.

First the Planning Officer presents the application and his recommendation.

Each group of speakers (Parish Council, Objectors, Supporters or District Councillor) is entitled to 3 minutes. Its 5 minutes in South Oxfordshire so why do their residents get longer to make their arguments?

The Planning Committee can ask the officer or speakers questions and should then discuss the application taking into account the information they have received.

One of the Councillors will then make a proposal and this will be voted on.

Three applications were brought to the committee last week for determination and no discussion was held on any of them.

Surely if the Council is prepared to spend time and money bringing applications to a committee, Councillors could at least discuss them before taking their decisions.


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