FURIOUS parish councils are up in arms over plans to delegate most planning applications to officers.
Chichester District Council discussed the possibility of deferring all domestic planning applications to officers – even when there are objections.
Applications for large-scale housing developments however, will still be heard at a public committee meeting.
Parish councils expressed ‘dismay’ at the proposals, which would eradicate their opportunity to speak publicly to the decision-makers about their opinion on applications.
At the full council meeting on May 21, councillors were advised to approve the changes to the way some applications are decided, but because of a flood of objections from parish councillors, they voted to defer the decision until the next full council meeting in July.
Currently, domestic applications with no objections from residents, parish councils or other authoritative bodies will be delegated to planning officers.
But if there are objections, the plans will go to a public planning committee, where elected councillors discuss the plans and the public have an opportunity to speak.
Despite many councillors supporting the recommendation, a proposal was made by Cllr Pieter Montyn to defer the decision until the next council meeting to enable parish councils to ‘study’ the proposals and ‘discuss it amongst themselves’.
This was agreed and the plans should come up again at the full council meeting on July 23.
Newly-appointed housing and planning cabinet member Carol Purnell said: “There has been concern by some parish councils about the determination of domestic applications by officers of the council, but I don’t believe this concern is necessarily widespread.
“The changes that are proposed still have adequate safeguards and, should a parish council wish to object to an application, they will be able to speak to their local district councillor or to the officer that is deciding the application. The council has not yet finally decided on this particular point and will be inviting the parish councils to look at the working papers before the proposal is reconsidered.”
Here’s what the parish councils said:
West Itchenor Parish Council said it met the plans with ‘dismay’ and called it ‘economic savings at the cost of democracy’. Referring to the Localism Act as ‘hollow’, its letter read: “What a mockery it all seems now with the proposal that far from giving the parish council additional powers it is proposed to take away the voice that they already have!”
Funtington Parish Council chairman Geoffrey Keech said: “In my opinion those applications which attract objection or observation should necessarily be considered by elected members, with the assistance of qualified officers.”
West Wittering Parish Council chairman Keith Martin said: “This is a matter of principle and flies in the face of a move towards greater localism. At a time when this parish council is taking on responsibilities discarded by the district council, such as management of the public conveniences, I take great exception to a proposal to reduce our powers.”
Chidham and Hambrook Parish Council chairman Cliff Archer said parish councils object to applications ‘for good reasons’ and officers ‘may have little knowledge of the particular environment of the parish concerned’.
Donnington Parish Council was ‘extremely disturbed’ by the proposals, and said the move ‘erodes rather than extends community involvement’.
Sidlesham Parish Council raised ‘strong objections’ as ‘a matter of principle’, while East Wittering and Bracklesham Parish Council was ‘disappointed and concerned’ about the plans.
“It would be undemocratic and unfair to let an officer decide an application to which the parish council has objected,” wrote clerk Joyce Griffith, on behalf of the parish council. “It appears this is being pushed through and is completely contrary to the spirit of localism.”
Graffham Parish Council said the plan ‘undermines the whole purpose of the parish council’s input to the planning process’.
And Southbourne Parish Council said the plan is in ‘direct conflict’ with localism.