There was a surprise finale to this afternoon’s full meeting of Northumberland County Council as agreement broke out between the Labour administration and the opposition groups.
The major and controversial transformation of Northumberland’s planning service was expected to be approved as the Labour-led administration had sufficient votes to carry the motion, but after almost three hours, consensus was reached which will see some of the issues looked at again before a final decision on Wednesday, May 20.
Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Conservative group, who had previously said the changes would render Northumberland ‘just about the most restrictive planning authority in the country’, proposed deferring the decision so that all of the consultation responses from town and parish councils could be looked at properly and considered by an all-party working group.
Lib Dem group leader Jeff Reid seconded the motion, because ‘I think an all-party group can agree because we are all closer on this than we think’. He also pointed out that no politicians are going to intervene in the local authority’s control over planning – one of the concerns if performance doesn’t improve – now as they have more important things to worry about in the next few weeks, and months.
Council and Labour group leader Grant Davey then conceded the merits of some of Coun Reid’s suggestions, but was also clear that the recommendations had come from the report on the council’s planning service by the external auditors Deloitte, which also should not be ignored.
Therefore he amended the proposal so that the recommendations relating to how the planning officers and department work be approved, while a working group featuring the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the planning committees will meet to discuss the issues relating to elected members, such as the planning committees and how they work.
The debate had been preceded by questions from a number of town and parish council representatives, who were clearly still concerned about the loss of their voice in the process, despite a number of previous assurances.
Council leader Grant Davey said: “Town and parish councils are not being excluded from the planning process.
“We will continue to consult town and parish councils on all applications in their area and will take their responses into account. Town and parish councils will still be able to speak at planning committee meetings.”
Coun Davey moved some amendments which he hoped would address some of these concerns with the first being a review of the change in meeting times after six months to ensure local involvement remains.
The second was that the council would be flexible regarding meeting arrangements so that they can take place within the relevant area when major applications are being discussed.
The final amendment was that any delegated decisions with a valid town or parish council objection are seen by the chairman of the planning committee.