Change proposed to engage local councils

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A parish councillor concerned at aspects of the new planning system has been gathering opinions from his colleagues across Northumberland.

The county council agreed a major overhaul of its planning system in April last year in the face of continuing poor performance and the fear that the Government could intervene and make decisions on its behalf.

A review of the progress since the changes, which is being discussed currently by the county council and will go before the decision-making cabinet on Tuesday, April 12, concluded that the system has improved in terms of meeting targets for how quickly applications are determined.

However, Bryn Owen, chairman of Craster Parish Council, has said that his council has concerns that this achievement was at the expense of openness and transparency.

One of the other changes was the removal of the automatic trigger for applications to be referred to a planning committee when objections were made by town and parish councils.

The county council report suggests that town and parish councils have reflected positively on the changes to delegation despite initial concerns that their objections would be ignored. In light of this, Coun Owen contacted other councils with a short survey asking their views on the new system and possible improvements.

He recognises that he is operating with no democratic mandate, but in light of responses from 38 town and parishes, said: “The results speak for themselves and indicate that in the opinion of those who responded there should be some simple changes to the process.”

Coun Owen shared his analysis with county officers and councillors, which led to a meeting last week with Geoff Paul, the council’s director of planning and economy.

Following discussions, it was agreed that it might be advantageous for the draft of the planning officer’s report, on those applications where the recommendations were not in line with those of the town or parish council, to be circulated for comment.

This is to be discussed with the relevant staff to see if it is feasible and therefore if this change can be agreed at the cabinet meeting.

Coun Owen stated: ‘This change would improve the engagement of the communities in the planning process and improve openness and transparency’.