Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Planning Madness.

I'm seething. Yet again the planning system in Powys has made my blood boil. There's so little genuine democracy left in the system, that its an abuse of the English Language to any longer call it 'local' government. The animals have taken over the zoo.

Its only a small application (for two houses) in the pretty little Welsh village of Pontrobert that has set my tail on fire. And I don't even know enough about the actual application to have any opinion about whether it should be approved or not. What makes me so agitated is that it may be decided by 'officers' of the Planning Department, with no input from the elected councillors. There is widespread local opposition to this development. The Community Council is vehemently opposed. The local County Councillor is opposed. There has been a history of refusals on the site. Yet it seems that the processes of the Council mean that this application will be decided by an officer, with no involvement of the Councillors at all. What the hell do we pay them their £10,000 per year for?

And another totally bizarre related matter. It seems that if the 'local' County Councillor attends the Community Council Meeting and speaks or votes on its recommendation to the Local Planning Authority (County Council) on an application, that Councillor is then barred from voting in the Local Planning Authority meeting because of what is deemed to be 'an interest'. Have you ever heard anything so stupid. It seems to be part of some great bureaucrat's scheme to undermine the principle of local democracy. As for as I can see, planning is a local authority function where there is a concerted attempt by central government to eliminate any local influence whatsoever being heard. I hope the population of Pontrobert will descend upon the Powys Council Offices in mass protest if this application doesn't go before Councillors for decision. If they do, I will be there with them.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are wrong on this issue Glyn. Councillors can speak on an issue but they must not give an opinion before the planning meeting. Planning is a quasi judicial function of the council and there are numerous examples of council decisions being successfully challenged on the grounds of predetermination. If you wish to learn more there is a very good leaflet on the Standards Board for England website which should be read by anyone interested in local government. This post might make you popular with those who oppose the application but unfortunately on this occasion you are wrong.

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats said...

Surely a councillor has the right to insist that a particular application come before a committee, if it is contentious or likely to set a precedent?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - you are correct of course (on the secondary point in my post that is). Sometimes, I am influenced by my experiences as Planning Authority Chair for 6 years in the 1980s - before the compensation culture really got going! I accept that the 'local' councillor has to sacrifice his or her vote if an opinion is expressed on the application beforehand. But I also believe that the Planning Authority members who do vote should take some note of the Community Council and 'local' Councillor opinion - be no point in consulting otherwise.

But the main point of my post was that an application where there is controvercy and widespread objection should not be decided by an officer. It should be decided by elected coucillors.

blodyn said...

One must remember that planning applications should be decided according to the Unitary Development Plans that have had an input from the Councillors all the way through and that the Plans must be in accordance with Planning Policy Wales and the Technical Advice Notes. Surely with these in place it should the be perfectly OK that the professional planners have the delegated powers to make the decisions. It's when the applications are 'departures' from the Development Plan that Councillors or even the National Assembly / Welsh Assembly Government become involved.

If there's been a history of refusal at this particular site - it's likely that it will be refused again.

It's not so long ago (2003) that the then Welsh Planning minister, Carwyn Jones, wrote to all planning authorities in Wales asking them to review their procedures following a critical report by the Audit Commission in Wales into planning in Montgomeryshire and into the behaviour of one Councillor in particular who had failed to declare an interest or withdraw from meetings when applications in which he had a personal interest were discussed. I can't find the actual report on the Audit Commisison's website now but reference to it is made on http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/england/professionals/en/10560129461213.html

Those of us who spent many a morning of the 1st Friday of each month weatching the proceedings at the planning committee in Welshpool, could have thought that there wqas an unspoken rule that if the local Councillor had an opinion on a planning application this was not opposed by the majority of other Councillors so that when an application in their own patch came along - this would be reciprocated.

And Glyn, I seem to recall you saying once that you, as an AM, could not give an opinion on one application (for a wind power station)in case you were eventually on a committee that would decide the application (following a Public Inquiry) but a year or so later made public your view on another similar application in the county.

So - you know who I am ............

Glyn Davies said...

Blodyn - challenging comment. No matter how many formal 'Plans' are in place, or whether they be 'draft' of 'final'. there will always remain proposals at the margin and plenty of scope for interpretation. For example, I do not know what formal plan will guide a decision in respect of the Pontrobert application - which I suppose will turn on interpretation of over development or visual impact, both highly subjective. And to add to the air of uncertainty, the Council has a record of reversing its position when challenged! - which makes a mockery of any plan.

There is no excuse for not declaring pecunary interests. Just not acceptable. But there is great scope for interpretation about what other interests are - and it does happen that members can declare interests to enable a convenient absense!

You are correct in saying that as an Assembly Member who was always potentially a member of Planning Decision Panels, I avoided expressing an opinion on anything that might find itself before a Panel, which included wind farms in particular. Though I did speak in strong opposition to TAN 8 as soon as it was published - mostly on the grounds of its undermining of local democracy. However, I do not know what you mean when you post that I declared a view on a similar application in the county. You will have to give me a clue on this. Sorry but I cannot conclude who you are. I'll need a clue on this as well.

A few weeks ago I was elected President of the CPRW, and I do comment about wind farms now if I am asked, though I still try to speak generally rather than about specific applications. Infact I've just been doing so on the Richard Evans Programme.

Matt said...

A county councillor can ask that a planning matter is referred to planning committee otherwise it will be decided under delegated powers. There has to be some scope for officers to decide applications or everything would go through committee and there would be an almightly backlog. To be honest not a blind bit of notice is taken over what the community councils say which is probably wrong but largely what happens. On the issue of coming to a conclusion before its debated I can see the point in part, its best just to say that you are minded to see the application in a certain way but will defer your final decision until all the evidence is heard. That would be pretty normal in a trial, not that there's a direct parrallel.

Glyn Davies said...

matt - yes, the local member can ask that an application is put before the Planning Committee - but sometimes it is not clear to the local member that the proposal is hugely controversial until after the deadline for call in is passed. This is what the local member tells me happened in the case I posted on

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the recent Ombudsman report on Powys? Basically, they fiddled a planning application in favour of the applicant. Who was the applicant? Why Powys County Council of course!

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I have not seen it - and do not know about it. I will try to find out more. What application was it?

Anonymous said...

For some reason it has yet to appear on the onbudsman's website: http://www.ombudsman-wales.org.uk/content.php?nID=1;lang=1 I suspect it'll be there shortly. It's pretty scathing.