An attempt by opposition councillors to halt proposals to completely overhaul Northumberland’s planning system has failed today.
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.
This can only result in decision-making being moved further away from the parishesCoun Gordon Castle
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.
And today, a group of Conservative councillors attempted to ‘call in’ the decision, the process by which decisions can be halted and reviewed in order to ensure the decision-making process works properly. 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.
Ward member for Alnwick, Coun Gordon Castle said: “It is extremely disappointing that the attempted call-in has been deemed invalid. While I recognise that there was some tweaking of the planning process required, this is too far, too quickly, when there are other options on the table. This has all the impression of taking decision-making back to County Hall and leaving the parishes behind.”
After last week’s meeting, Coun Allan Hepple, policy board member for housing, planning and regeneration, again outlined the ‘two critical recommendations that will make our service better’; removing the ability of town and parish councils to automatically refer any application to committee and introducing two countywide planning committees.
He said: “Town and parish councils are an extremely important stakeholder in the planning process and it is unfortunate that, in the early stages, they have been misled about the council’s intentions. I would like to personally thank the 100 or so local councils that have taken the time to offer their views on the review and state clearly that they are neither being removed or excluded from the planning process.”
Regarding the change of committees, he added: “This will lead to the quality of decision-making improving while retaining the ability of local people and town and parish councils to engage fully with the application process.”
However, many are still unconvinced, such as Jeff Watson, a county councillor and member of Amble Town Council and Warkworth Parish Council. “Other successful councils throughout the country have local planning committees and the council is taking the wrong direction to solve the problems that it is currently experiencing,” he said. “Parish councils have voiced their concern about these proposed changes, but the administration once again has not listened and is determined to push through its own anti-democratic agenda.”