Figures released by Northumberland County Council show the cost to taxpayers of appeals which go to public inquiry, as controversial proposals to overhaul the planning system make progress.
As reported by the Gazette last week, a major transformation of Northumberland’s planning service was approved by the policy board last week, despite an attempt by the Conservative and Lib Dem group leaders to have the decision deferred, and will be voted on by all councillors on Wednesday, April 1.
The service has been under increasing pressure to improve performance and meet targets. Failure to do this could result in Government intervention, and ultimately planning decisions being taken out of the council’s hands. But despite assurances, some are still concerned about the loss of local voices amid the changes, with some criticising the impact on local democracy.
Now, the county council has released figures which show that appeals which have gone to public inquiries are estimated to have £1.87million since 2008. Of those where planning committees failed to follow officer advice, the cost was approximately £500,000.
It comes as the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has indicated its support for the Labour administration’s new proposals to streamline the planning process. DCLG officials have indicated they are happy that the council is acting to improve planning.
Council and Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “If local Tories think it’s unfair not to allow the town and parish councils the same rights as statutory consultees then they need to explain why it’s okay to waste taxpayers’ cash on a planning system which is slowing the county’s economic growth and isn’t working for the majority of residents.
“This is yet another example of the Tories trying to play politics with the future of Northumberland and putting politics before people. They’d rather see chaos in the planning system than put party politics to one side for the good of the county.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of opposition councillors attempted to ‘call in’ the decision, the process by which decisions can be halted and reviewed. The call-in was deemed invalid on six grounds, with one of the main issues relating to the fact that the policy board has not made a decision, but made recommendations which will be voted on by the full council.
This has led to the Labour administration coming under renewed criticism from Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who said: “Virtually every parish and town council in the area has taken the time, despite the very tight timescales given to them for this so-called consultation, to respond detailing their very strong opposition to these plans which will essentially extinguish their role in the planning decision-making process.
“It seems to be that the Labour administration is failing to takes these views on board, submit their plans for proper scrutiny or genuine consultation and I am disappointed that they have repeatedly rejected our calls to set up a cross-party group on this. This refusal to call in this issue, of significant public interest, is a further snub and affront to democracy.”