A radical overhaul of the county’s planning system is being proposed, in light of a highly-critical review of the service.
But critics have raised concerns, including fears that local communities could lose their voice in key decisions.
It comes after Deloitte undertook an independent review of the planning service.
In a damning report, the external auditor stated that there were ‘significant issues with the performance of the planning service’, with concerns about its ‘quality, structure, performance, governance and costs’.
Deloitte criticised the timing of decision making, the workload undertaken by committees, the proportion of appeals lost by the authority and delays in developing the core strategy, among other things.
It called on the council to take ‘robust action’ to address these concerns as a priority.
Now, Coun Allan Hepple, of the Labour-run administration, has announced a number of ‘fundamental and radical proposals for change’ to help the council deliver an ‘outstanding planning service’.
Through the review, the council wants to determine planning applications more quickly and proposed changes include abolishing the current geographically-based planning committees and replacing them with three county-wide committees;
○ Reducing the numbers of planning applications that need to be determined by planning committee;
○ Taking steps to increase the number of planning appeals won by the council;
○ Introducing a structured approach to delivering the infrastructure and service changes needed by new development through Section 106 agreements and the new community infrastructure levy;
○ Improving customer access to the planning service;
○ Strengthening the performance management structure supporting service delivery and exploiting new technology to improve decision making by councillors.
Coun Hepple said: “The service has been under tremendous pressure since seven local authorities were joined together in 2009. I am determined to oversee a change in performance to meet our ambitions. The proposals aim to promote an open for business culture that supports appropriate new development across the county.”
He will take the proposals through the council’s scrutiny process next month, before policy board consideration.
But Coun Glen Sanderson, deputy leader of Northumberland Conservatives, said: “These proposals are causing concern within communities.
“Potentially they will remove the ability of parish and town councils and local people to express their views on planning applications.”
Northumberland’s Conservative parliamentary candidate, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, added that it was vital that the local voice is not ‘snuffed out’.
Coun Dougie Watkin, chairman of the north area planning committee, felt that in general, the proposals should result in a better service for people in the county.