At a meeting of the Councils Regulatory and Appeals Committee on the 12th November only Liberal Democrat Councillor Geoff Reid stood up for the rights of residents to have their voices heard when they object to planning applications in their neighbourhood.
Currently in Bradford District, Planning Committees would hear the cases for and again the most contentious applications before a decision to go ahead was made, if it:
1. Was requested to do so by a Councillor or MP.
2. Received objections from 6 or more local Residents.
3. Received a petition signed by 6 or more people.
The report presented to the Committee gave a number of reasons for the need to change the rules so that options 2 and 3 would no longer trigger a hearing at Planning Panel. As a result more decisions would be taken by Council Planning Officers. Therefore, fewer contentious applications and any objections to them would be heard in public committees.
The reasons given for the need for change ranged from Government advice, the need to streamline the process and claims it would improve planning in Bradford district. These were challenged head on by Councillor Geoff Reid who made the following comments before voting against the changes.
"In the background to this report there is reference to encouragement by central government and a strong emphasis on measuring the performance of local authorities. My understanding is that under the existing system Bradford Council is meeting government targets and indeed meeting our more strenuous local targets.
As for the Government we have been reminded in recent months about the difference between mandatory and advisory so far as its demands are concerned. If we adopt the system for delegated authority (the ability for Council officers to take decisions without seeking Councillors approval) we cannot blame the Government for what is legally our decision and a matter for our Constitution.
We are told that this is about streamlining but during the past year a decision was taken to reduce the number of planning bodies because the number of cases arriving at planning panels had reduced. So, the system is not broken. We are meeting our targets. We are not being swamped by the workload.
The report admits that it is standing on its head the criteria as to whether determinations shall be made under delegated authority or not. At the moment there is a specified list of circumstances which permit delegated authority. The proposal is that delegated authority is the default position except for a limited number of exceptions.
And when we get down to the detail of the exceptions there is one element that gives me grave cause for concern. Opposition to an application from 6 or more residents is no longer a reason why determination by committee should be considered. A petition signed by 6 or more individuals is also not a reason.
Now it could be argued that the option for elected members to bring requests for committee determination is sufficient safeguard, but I believe this to be unrealistic. Many residents do not know their local councillors and would not consider them when exercising their rights under the planning process. We should avoid creating artificial and unnecessary barriers and we should not be limiting residents’ voices in the consideration of planning applications.
I am not persuaded that these changes are necessary and for the reasons I have given I believe they should be resisted, and I will vote against the request to adopt the approved scheme."
As Liberal Democrats we believe people should have easy and simple access to the decision-making process. We were saddened to see every Conservative and Labour member of the Committee vote to make it hard for people to raise concerns about planning and have them hear in public.
While Labour and Conservatives are comfortable with decisions taken behind closed doors the Liberal Democrats are not.
You can view the debate and decision made in the Committee here.
The debate on this subject starts at 2 hours 48 mins into the video of the meeting and the vote was taken at 3 hours 9 mins.