(Democratic Services Manager) To consider the attached report.
The Working Group agreed to bring forward this item, as the Planning Services Portfolio Holder and the Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy and Implementation) had been delayed by another meeting.
Council had agreed on 25 April 2019 to the recommendations made by the Working Group on 28 March 2019 that the trial arrangement for site visits at the Area Plans Sub-Committees be approved, and extended to the District Development Management Committee.
Council had also asked the Working Group to review:
(a) existing public speaking arrangements within the Constitution when planning applications referred to Council for determination were not generally subject to arrangements for public speaking; and
(b) possible arrangements for formal site visits to be held when planning applications were referred to Council for determination.
(a) Public Speaking
Arrangements for public speaking at the Area Plans Sub-Committees and the District Development Management Committee (DDMC) had well-established procedures to allow an applicant/agent, objector and a local council representative to register to speak at meetings. If planning applications were referred by constitutional requirement or minority reference from DDMC to Council for determination, current public speaking arrangements did not allow speakers to make further representations. The only exception was if a planning application was referred straight to Council. However, in the last five years no planning applications had been submitted directly to Council without prior consideration by one or more of the planning committees.
There was consensus that public speaking arrangements at Council should be consistent with DDMC and the Area Plans Sub-Committees, but discussion by the Working Group raised the following points:
· Very interested in larger controversial builds going forward, and it would be more inclusive for residents if they were allowed to speak;
· The reality with the Local Plan was that larger more interesting applications, and their effect on a wider area of the District would occur, so there might be a movement towards planning applications going to Council; and
· A previous DDMC chairman had been known for referring planning applications to Council on a split vote, to avoid using a casting vote.
The Democratic Services Manager clarified that there was no legislative or constitutional requirement for planning applications to go before Council.
Discussion turned to parish meetings that these could become very hostile for residents. Also, some local councils required speakers to register, while others just let residents turn up.
The Democratic Services Manager commented that all councils allowed public speaking in some way. Regarding benchmarking with some other local authorities, all those at local planning authority level allowed public speaking. He would be surprised if public speaking wasn’t encouraged.
When the Working Group was asked if priority should be given to those speakers who had registered previously at DDMC to speak at Council, this was thought to be unwise.
It was recommended that public speaking arrangements at Council should be consistent with DDMC and the Area Plans Sub-Committees. There was consensus that speakers at Council should be registered on a ‘first come, first served’ basis as happened currently on all the planning committees.
(b) Site Visits
The Council’s protocol for the management of site visits was set out in the Constitution at Appendix 2 of Article 10 (District Development Management Committee and Area Plans Sub-Committees). However, there were no such arrangements in place for members of the Council to hold site visits.
The Working Group was asked to consider the following:
(i) When a formal site visit for an application had taken place for members of DDMC, if a further site visit should be arranged for members of Council prior to its determination? and
(ii) When a planning application was submitted directly to Council, if a site visit should be arranged as a matter of routine?
Only five planning applications had been referred to Council from DDMC in the last five years. Logistically it would be difficult to organise a site visit for all members, both on finding a convenient date and to accommodate members especially at a small site.
Discussion by the Working Group raised the following points:
· To organise a site visit for a large number of councillors could be a nightmare, but at a recent DDMC site visit only three members had turned up;
· Site visits tended to be for well-known sites;
· Certain sites might only be well-known to the members of the relevant Area Plans Sub-Committee, but not to others;
· Members could visit a site on their own if no formal site visit had been arranged;
· Google Earth could be useful to view a site;
· Southend Borough Council apparently organised a visit to every planning application site. When an application for the Gunpowder Factory site, Waltham Abbey, was referred up to Council, the precedent was to have a site visit before the meeting which was very well attended, although the site could not be seen from the road;
· If an officer thought a site visit would be useful this could be arranged, but not to make it mandatory to have a site visit for an application that went to Council for determination;
· To ask members if they wanted a site visit?
· Ultimately it was up to the Chairman of Council who would agree to a site visit;
· If DDMC had a site visit then to definitely have a site visit for Council;
· If DDMC had a site visit then the assumption would be that Council would too, but it was better to wait for a planning officer or member to request.
· Site visits were good to attend but you had to stop yourself pre-determining an application;
The Democratic Services Manager summed up that there was a protocol in the Constitution for site visits to advise members. Site visits were useful especially where they needed to be seen in their context. However, as it was not really practical to ask 58 members if they wanted a site visit, this would therefore be organised when a request was made.
That a report be made to the Council, recommending:
(a) That existing arrangements for public speaking in respect of planning applications that currently only apply to meetings of the District Development Management Committee and the Area Plans Sub-Committees, be extended to all planning applications considered by the full Council;
(b) That any proposal for the holding of a formal site visit for all members with regard to any planning application to be considered by the full Council, be approved by the Chairman of the Council on the recommendation of the Service Director (Planning Services); and
(c) That pursuant to Recommendations (a) and (b) above, the Monitoring Officer be authorised to make necessary revisions to the Council’s Constitution to give effect to the adoption of arrangements for public speaking and the holding of member site visits, with regard to all planning applications considered by the full Council.