Planning system still in the spotlight

Councillor Scott Dickinson
Councillor Scott Dickinson

Proposals for a radical overhaul of the planning system continue to spark criticisms that loyal voices will be ignored.

As reported in last week’s Gazette, the suggestions, following a critical review of the council’s system, include abolishing the geographically-based planning committees and replacing them with three countywide committees, and reducing the number of applications going to committee.

Julie Porksen

Julie Porksen

One who may support these proposals is a north Northumberland resident, who in an anonymous letter on Page 20 and 21 of this week’s Gazette criticises the north area planning committee for ignoring planning officer advice, resulting in costly appeals for the taxpayer.

Others, including the Conservative politicians featured in last week’s article, have different views.

Lib Dem candidate for Berwick, Julie Pörksen, said: “The recommendations to centralise the planning service are exceptionally concerning for local communities as it will remove their ability to have a strong local voice in planning decisions.

“Northumberland is such a large and diverse county that expecting a central committee to understand the individual needs of each community and the local priorities for sustainable development is unrealistic.

“If planning decisions are made by a group of councillors who know nothing of the community and do not have to live with the consequences of the planning decisions they make, there is no point in having a planning process and county may as well just rubber stamp applications.

“The Labour bosses at County Hall must know that planning is currently causing much controversy in communities such as Shilbottle, Warkworth, Seahouses, Rothbury and Morpeth, and they should be looking to involve local communities in the planning process, not finding ways to ignore them.

“The proposals to remove the power of parish and town councils’ opinions on planning applications is a serious attack on local democracy and I urge all parish and town councils to object to the centralising proposals.”

But Coun Scott Dickinson, who is part of the Labour administration, believes that the new system will work better and reduce the backlog of planning applications.

He said: “Currently, if a parish council makes an objection, the application goes straight to committee, but what we are facing is a backlog of applications, especially in the north area where there are about 100 parish councils.

“Instead, parish councils will still be able to make a comment on an application, but their views will count as a submission, instead of sending something straight to committee.

“They will be able to work with their local member and it is up to the local member to take planning matters seriously and represent the area at committee. I think it will tighten the whole thing up.”