Questions to the Portfolio Holder for Planning
The Portfolio Holder for Planning presented a report which updated the Committee on recent achievements and challenges ahead. The work completed for the Local Plan was considered to be an achievement for the Portfolio Holder and the department which had seen a huge volume of work competed over the past 5 years. It was noted that the Local Plan had been supported at Full Council on 26 March 2019 and would be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by the end of May. Although focus was often on housing the Portfolio Holder also wished the highlight the other aspects of the plan. The Committee thanked Councillor Piper and the Planning Team for their work on the plan so far.
Information was requested on the postponement of the U&I appeal which was due to start the previous week (26 March 2019). It was advised that the deferral was due to confusion arising from a letter sent relating to the appeal. The letter had been considered by the Inspector to potentially cause confusion regarding registering to speak at and/or attend the hearing.
Members questioned the role of finances for applicants throughout the planning process and if well-funded applicants were at an advantage. It was advised that each application was considered on planning grounds, and if considered appropriate, refused and fought at appeal on these grounds regardless of the funds of the applicant. It was noted that for the U&I application in Swanley the appeal would not be defended as the Council had received legal advice there were not sufficient planning reasons for refusal. Members discussed the possibility of creating a resource for residents and Parish Councils to detail the general principles of planning and making the planning reasons for the determination of a decision more easily accessible. It was acknowledged that there was frequently a conflict between emotion and law in planning.
A Member highlighted some issues experienced with submitting online comments to the Local Plan. The Committee was advised that technical issues were experienced during the first week of the Regulation 19 consultation which were identified and resolved. Alternative consultation methods had also been available.
The Portfolio Holder was questioned by Members on his confidence that the Local Plan would pass the inspection. The Committee were advised that the plan had received positive feedback so far. The Plan committed to deliver 100% of the central government requested housing for each of the first 12 years with a commitment to an early review after 5 years. The Portfolio Holder advised that as many of the large brown field sites had been committed in this plan, future Local Plans would require the Council to explore other options.
Members queried how the four sites which had been submitted during the Regulation 18 consultation would be reported as they were not included in the Local Plan or Regulation 19 proposed submission. Members were advised that the four sites would be included in the required consultation statement for the inspector.
Members raised questions relating to the instances where pre-application advice by Officers differed from the advice given at the application stage. The Chief Planning Officer in attendance noted that advice may vary slightly as the application stage would allow Officers to consider the application in greater detail with more evidence available. He was however not aware of any instances where the advice given had been significantly different.
In response to a Member Question the Portfolio Holder confirmed that an amendment had been made to the guidance on the Public Access system regarding commenting on planning applications to clarify that names and addresses would be published alongside comments. Members were advised that anonymous comments would not be permitted expect in exceptional circumstances.
It was noted that only 2% of applications were considered by the Development Control Committee which was considered to be a positive figure. It was believed this was partly due to the good working relationship between Councillors and the planning department with strong local Member involvement in the planning process. Members considered this relationship to have improved over the course of current Members’ term of office.
The Chairman thanked the Portfolio Holder for his attendance.