Key planning decision for district cabinet

‘DEEP concerns’ have been raised over a scheme to give more powers to planning officers.

Members of Chichester District Council’s cabinet are set to consider a proposal to extend officers’ delegated powers on householder planning applications at their cabinet meeting tomorrow (July 9).

The decision has already been deferred once to give parish councils and Chichester Harbour Conservancy more information on the scheme. However, parish councils, are still concerned about the plan.

The 13 councils list the following main objections:

- Gives the impression that parish council opinions carry less weight

- Objections should be considered by elected members

- Loss of power to refer applications to committee

- Proposed changes are less transparent than the present system

- Restraints on red cards will mean the procedure is used only occasionally

- Contrary to aims of localism.

Responding to the plan, Easebourne Parish Council said: “It gives the strong impression our opinions will carry even less weight than at present.

“Since one of the stated aims of the Localism Bill was to create more engaged communities that play a greater role in shaping the future of their neighbourhoods this seems to be a step in the wrong direction.”

West Wittering Parish Council said it ‘deplores’ the proposal while Selsey Town Council raised concerns about the ‘eroding of the democratic process’.

Bepton Parish Council said: “We regard it as a fundamental principle of accountable democracy and community involvement that any objections, or representations if appropriate, from a parish council be considered by elected members with the assistance of suitably qualified officers. To do otherwise would be to usurp our authority.”

The new powers would allow officers to make decisions on householder applications where a parish council or Chichester Harbour Conservancy objects, but officers recommend approval.

It would not affect large developments and district councillors would still be able to ‘red card’ applications.

At a district council all-member briefing session, attended by 30 members, councillors voted 18 to seven in favour of the plan.

A report into the change said increasing delegated powers was likely to decrease the planning committee’s workload.

It said the average cost of a delegated decision is £89 while a committee decision is £722. However, the cost for householder applications would be less because the average includes large-scale developments.