Fears for planning overhaul

A county councillor is concerned about certain proposals put forward as part of ideas to radically overhaul Northumberland’s planning system, which has already sparked controversy.

The council recently launched a review of the service, following a scathing report by its external auditors Deloitte, along with other reviews carried out by the Planning Officers Society Enterprises, part of the Planning Advisory Service.

The council’s audit committee, a cross-party group which includes co-opted independent representatives, agreed for the review to take place. It includes 21 recommendations and a full report on future proposals is now being prepared. It will be considered by the communities and place scrutiny committee on Tuesday, the policy board on Tuesday, March 10, and the full council in April.

One of the issues being considered is the triggers by which an application is referred to a planning committee. The council is reviewing whether objections by a town or parish council should be an automatic trigger for an application to go to committee. There is also talk about abolishing the current geographically-based planning committees and replacing them with three county-wide ones.

However, at Amble Town Council on Thursday, Coun Jeff Watson, who is on the audit committee, said: “There are two things that concern me. Firstly, if you take the power or the veto away from the town and parish councils, but say that an application will go to committee if five members of the public object, that, to me, is nonsense.

“It is ludicrous, because there are often more than five elected members of the public on town and parish council. I am also not happy with the reduction in the number of committees. I think a sensible solution would be to appoint an impartial officer who checks objections from town and parish councils and instructs on whether their objections are legal, in planning terms. If they are not legal on planning grounds, then the officer could send back the objections.”

Coun Watson also believes that some councillors need more training.

He said: “On the other side of the coin, I think there are some cases of parish and town councillors who object to an application, but their objections are not on planning grounds.”