Local planning committees scrapped

PUBLISHED: 18:12 24 June 2014

North Somerset Council

North Somerset Council

Archant

AN ‘INCOMPREHENSIBLE’ decision to centralise North Somerset’s planning decisions was passed by a Conservative majority vote last week.

From next month, the authority’s four area planning committees will be scrapped in favour of a 30-man central body, which has already drawn criticism for ‘diluting links’ with smaller towns and parishes.

Concerns were raised at the meeting last Wednesday, labelled a ‘masquerade’ by councillor David Shopland, about how councillors would have a say on applications in and around their ward and whether site visits would be reduced, with all attending opposition members voting against the proposition.

Councillors will be able to substitute for individual meetings if they can agree to swap in but will have no guarantee of a place, meaning wards could be unrepresented during votes on applications in their area. The committee will be made up of 20 Conservative, four independent, three Liberal Democrat and three Labour members.

Diana Hassan, speaking as chairman of Congresbury Parish Council, said that North Somerset already took little notice of town and parish planning committees, and to scrap area meetings would ‘reduce their influence’ even further.

She said: “Town and parish councillors wonder why they should spend an evening looking at plans based on local knowledge to have it overturned by someone who might have never visited the site or have very little knowledge about where a building is being placed.

“It’s OK for representing a large community like Weston or Nailsea, but for smaller villages you are looking at smaller building developments and you are not going to have the ability to discuss these in any depth.

“This proposal is the latest step to dilute the link with these councils and reduce their influence, we know you already take little notice of decisions.”

Liberal Democrat leader Mike Bell said: “There will often be more than one application of relevance and I don’t believe we are all going to be swapping seats with other councillors with such ease.

“There has been no consultation on this, and it’s because there is no interest in asking town and parish councils; the administration doesn’t care.”

Deputy leader Cllr Elfan Ap Rees defended the move, and said that there would be no difference in the way substitution and site visits work.

He said: “There should be more involvement from parish and town councils than there is now, and we have to accept the mental change that a lot of these applications will need to be sorted before we get to the stage of someone putting in an application.

“Substitutions will be no different to how they are now. It is up to the individual groups to decide how they want to be represented. If an application needs a site visit, there can be site visits. There may be things which need to be tweaked, but we have got to start somewhere.”

The first proposed meeting of the planning committee will be July 9, after which it will meet on the second Wednesday of every month.

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