Agenda item

Issues Raised by Local Councils

To discuss the following matter raised by the local councils:


(i)            (Epping Forest District Council) To discuss changes to the planning delegations. (See letter from the Assistant Director (Governance) attached).


(i)            Planning delegations


The Service Director (Governance and Member Services), S Hill, reported that planning delegations had been discussed at the Local Councils’ Liaison Committee in March 2018. The Constitution Working Group had considered this matter in depth, undertaken two consultations with members and local councils in April and May/June 2018 and, at its last meeting on 25 June 2018, made recommendations to Council. The Full Council on 31 July 2018 approved a number of changes to the delegation arrangements that would now apply to Development Management. The review of planning delegations had not sought a diminution of the role of parish councils. However, any increase in delegations would assist the Council in moving closer towards the Government’s national average target and also help create capacity for members to consider larger applications. The updated planning delegations for Development Management could be found in the Constitution (item 26), Part 3 Scheme of Delegation, Appendix 3 Delegation to Officers from Full Council – CLD 2). Local councils had been issued guidance on this on 21 August and advised that it was the intention of the Constitution Working Group to review the operation of these new arrangements after one year.


Delegations essentially fell into two categories.


·      Category A for those that were delegated except in a number of circumstances where they were brought to District members to be determined either by call-in or as a result of consultations. The report detailed the types of applications under this category that would be determined by officers unless they met one of the circumstances that triggered a requirement for their determination to come before a planning committee; or


·      Category B for those that were delegated to officers (unless the Service Director (Planning Services) considered it appropriate to be determined by members). The report listed the types of applications that were normally determined by officers for planning related applications and planning and related procedures. Furthermore, officers would normally determine whether enforcement action would be appropriate or if entry onto land by authorised officers was deemed necessary.


The Category A ‘triggers’ would probably be of most interest to local councils. It was noted that local councils would be counted in the five expressions of objections (3a). A local council objection supported by at least one non-councillor resident with material planning reasons would automatically go to committee. Also when an objection material to the planning merits was received from a local council (3c), that council would need to indicate its attendance and register to speak at the meeting at which the application would be determined. It was also clarified that when one of the triggers was met, the local council would be informed of the date of the planning meeting that the application would be determined. The agendas to the planning committees published advice to the public and speakers attending, including the requirement to register with Democratic Services by 4.00pm on the day before the meeting.


Local councils were asked to inform the Service Director (Governance and Member Services) as soon as possible of any issues that needed to be reviewed, or if they were serious he would look at these immediately. The Constitution Working Group had asked for a review after one year to see what impact these changes had made before anything more radical was considered.


A members question and answer session followed.


Councillor S Jackman asked what the Council did not like about the present system? The Service Director (Governance and Member Services) replied that the issue here was related to the capacity of the planning committees, the length of the meetings and content of the agendas. The Council had to create capacity for a surge in Local Plan applications. This would require significant resources and an Implementation Team had been established to help increase staffing to deal with an escalation in planning application numbers. Furthermore, most members did not always agree with the interpretation of local councils’ comments on applications that had gone before committees. In 87 per cent of these cases members had agreed with the planning officer’s recommendation. Local councils were being asked to look at the applications most important to them, and to attend and speak when these came before a planning committee.


Councillor S Jackman continued that officers seemed to approve applications despite objections from local councils. However, parish councillors often knew the history of local sites and other valid reasons for objection, yet when this happened it made local councils doubtful of the system when officers would still give a blanket approval. The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that what local councils would not see were all the applications officers had already refused permission for, that was because the delegated powers allowed officers to refuse certain applications. There were often incidences when the local council was the only objector but there had been no neighbour objections, yet these had still gone to committee. Planning officers did listen to local councils’ views but they also had to adhere to national planning policies and local plan policies.


Clerk, S De Luca, said that North Weald parish councillors did know which planning applications officers had turned down as they received a list of these every month. Her concern was directed at (3c) of the report – an objection from a local council material to the planning merits of the proposal was received and confirmed in writing their intention to attend and speak at the meeting where the proposal would be considered. Local residents might have been informed but in her experience there was often a neighbour that was not informed. The Planning team might not realise that a neighbouring property was very close so what would happen then? The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that incidences such as this were few and far between. He had reminded planning officers that it was part of their job during a site visit to check that the correct neighbours had been consulted.


Councillor K Carter commented that two recent applications for the same site had consulted different neighbouring properties. The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that it also depended on the type of application and if it was for a small application, i.e. a rear extension, or for a more major application. He was hoping a system would be available that could identify the addresses of neighbouring properties correctly. However, if individuals had previously objected they could write to Planning on any further applications.


Clerk, K O’Brien, queried that if parish councils had submitted objections why, if it was the only objector, a written statement was not sufficient? The Service Director (Governance and Member Services) replied that he thought the Working Group had taken the view that a parish council would be calling out fifteen or more members of a planning committee for a meeting. Therefore, there was consensus that if the parish council felt strongly enough, it was not unreasonable for a representative to attend the meeting and encouraged the engagement of local councils with the committee.


Councillor E Burn had a concern about the interpretation of (3b) of the report – an objection was received from a local council, supported by at least one non-councillor resident, with material planning reasons – in relation to amenity groups. In Theydon Bois there was one very organised organisation in particular that commented on applications within the village. Although amenity groups could be counted within the five expressions of objection in (3a), could it be interpreted that an amenity group could be counted as the other objector to a local council in (3b)? Going forward with local councils, you wanted to keep engagement and interest for master plans. As this could be reviewed in a year, shouldn’t associations have the opportunity to be considered? The Service Director (Governance and Member Services) replied that all representations were taken into consideration before a decision was taken. However, he advised that the word in the Constitution referred to ‘resident’ not ‘amenity group’ or ‘association’. He did not believe that the Constitution Working Group had mentioned this during its review of the planning delegation arrangements.


Councillor R Morgan said that many objections made by parish councillors at their meetings were not really relevant planning objections. Therefore he supported the attendance of parish councillors at the District planning committees to help reinforce their objection, as District members did take their comments into consideration. The Service Director (Governance and Member Services) agreed, but commented this was often not the case.


Councillor C C Pond asked about the logistics and mechanics of registering to speak when a local council had submitted an objection and then registered to speak, but Loughton Town Council would probably raise this as a result of an issue at the Area Plans South Committee on 22 August 2018. Secondly, regarding North Weald and Nazeing Parish Councils’ earlier remarks, he asked why the Management Board had agreed two years ago where there was a borderline / balanced case, the recommendation to planning officers was for approval? He disagreed with this and asked why it was done. The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that this was not the case if a balanced report was being provided this could go to committee usually recommending approval, but a balanced view could go the other way if the officer was recommending to refuse planning permission under delegated powers. The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework recommended a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but if something was really borderline then the guidance might tip the balance in favour of granting an application, this was not a blanket thing that happened though. The Chairman said that when he had been the previous Planning Portfolio Holder, he remembered having discussions with N Richardson on this and the use of the words, ‘on balance’ to help indicate to members that all the options had been considered but that the recommendation was for approval. N Richardson agreed that the use of the words ‘on balance’ were used in officers’ reports taking all the issues into consideration. The Chairman said that local councils could always go to their District members and ask for their support.


Clerk, E Walsh, said that changes to the Constitution had been approved by Council in July 2018 but the implementation of the changes happened throughPlanning Services. When Loughton Town Council received a notification from Planning Services, a Town councillor was registered to speak with Planning, but we did not realise that this needed to be duplicated and the councillor also registered with the Democratic Services team. This duplication was just adding to local councils work. Furthermore, at this Plans South Committee meeting, the Town Councillor had attended the meeting but was not allowed to speak by the Chairman. The Service Director (Governance and Member Services) apologised for these teething problems but N Richardson had since spoken to his officers and reinforced that the public must register with Democratic Services. The guidance given to planning committee chairmen for people not registered was that where another speaker had previously registered then natural justice would allow for a ‘late’ speaker to address the meeting to give a balanced viewpoint. Sometimes after the deadline registered speakers checked with Democratic Services to see if another speaker had been registered and if not, then might choose to withdraw. Therefore, when no other speakers had been registered on an application, such a ‘late’ request would normally be turned down, as natural justice would dictate.


Clerk, S De Luca asked for confirmation that the applicants would still be allowed to speak. The Services Director (Governance and Member Services) said that the review had actually widened the number of speakers to four – the applicant, one objector, the parish or town council and one other statutory organisation e.g. Lee Valley Park Authority, the Highway Authority or Epping Forest Conservator.


Councillor E Burn asked about previous representations Theydon Bois Parish Council had made on pre-applications and how the progress of these applications through the planning process could be monitored so they did not slip through? The Service Director (Planning Services) said that firstly, all comments should be made through the case planning officer, so he aware of early objections, but they would need to check the planning committee agendas and register to speak when the application came before a committee. He also drew to their attention that District councillors could ‘call in’ an application but this had to be done within four weeks of the publication of the relevant Weekly List, otherwise it would be too late to go onto an agenda if this was the only trigger. The Service Director (Governance and Member Services) emphasised that local councils could only register to speak with Democratic Services once the relevant committee agenda had been published.


The Chairman thanked members for this useful discussion and that the planning delegations scheme would be reviewed in a year’s time. He also added that there would be lots of Local Plan applications coming into the Council within the foreseeable future.

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