Tighter planning controls to solve drugs problem?

PUBLISHED: 08:00 25 November 2010


EVERY planning application for a one-bedroom flat in central Weston could soon be decided by councillors rather than planning officers in a bid to tackle the resort's drugs problems.

A scheme to fundamentally change how North Somerset Council deals with proposals was being discussed as the Mercury went to press yesterday (Wed).

Plans for flats are normally decided by officers and local authority staff unless they are major schemes or an individual councillor feels a decision by a committee of councillors is required.

But North Somerset Conservatives believe there are too many one-bedroom flats in the centre of Weston and they contribute to the town’s social problems, particularly its drugs issue.

They want every one-bedroom flat, whether conversions within an existing building or a new build, to be examined by a committee.

But Councillor Edward Keating, deputy group leader for the Liberal Democrats, says the move could lead to escalating costs for the local authority, at a time when it needs to save £42million over four years.

Cllr Keating said: “There may be too many flats in central Weston, but the problem started decades ago.

“If the Tories wanted to interfere with planning in this way they should have been doing this when I was in school - they have councillors who have held their seats that long and have had been on hand for all the big decisions.”

In his report to the planning and regulatory committee meeting, scheduled for yesterday, the council’s head of development management, Richard Kemp, raises concerns about the cost of the potential change.

He said: “In a financial climate where resources are reducing, it is important to ensure that the committee process remains as efficient and effective as possible.

“A blanket referral of specific types of application, regardless of the issues they raise, would not be consistent with this objective.”

North Somerset is currently reviewing all of its planning policies and is considering making it harder to pass one bed flats in the town centre.

Mr Kent also warns until such a policy becomes law any decisions which go against the existing rules could result in the council paying costs after an appeal.

Cllr Keating added: “When the council has to find £42million of cuts in funding and is facing tough decisions in areas like social services it is a complete nonsense for the Tories to be adding costs to the planning process.

“Under the existing system if a councillor wants any planning application called in, for a one bedroom flat or anything else, all they need to do is ask and it will happen.”

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