Local Planning Committees Axed

Concerns raised about 'stealth developments'


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The area committees that used to consider local planning applications have been axed in a measure that Hounslow Council say will save over £100,000.

The Chiswick Area and Isleworth & Brentford Area Committees were formed of local councillors who were allowed to make decisions on all but the largest planning applications in their area.

Their planning powers will now be redistributed to the Sustainable Development Committee (SDC) in Hounslow. It is proposed to continue with area monitoring committees in their present form which will assume some of the functions currently carried out by the Area Planning Committees until new arrangements are established which give effect to the Council’s ambitions for greater community engagement. Major planning application will be submitted to the monitoring committee for comment as happened under the old system.

The move is being made because relatively few determinations by planning officers are overridden by Councillors. According to Hounslow Council, during the period from January 2007 and June 2010 approximately 90% of all planning decisions were determined under delegated powers. In this period the remaining 10% (596 applications) were considered by the Area Planning Committees, and of these 543 (91%) were determined in line with officer recommendation. Of these 596 applications, 564 were at committee because they had been the subject of at least one objection; 542 (96%) of these were determined in line with officer recommendation.

The move seems to fly in the face of the present Government’s Localism Bill going through Parliament but the Council report on the matter dismisses this saying there is nothing in the Localism Bill as currently drafted to suggest that area planning committees should be created where they do not already exist or preserved where they do.

There is also concern that the demise of local planning committees will make it even easier for unwelcome developments to slip through by stealth. Hounslow Council 'publicise' planning applications in papers that are not generally in available in parts of the borough such as Chiswick so the first notice that some residents may get that a development is planned is when building work starts.

Peter Eversden of the London Forum said of the move, "Boroughs that have done away with local planning decision making by Councillors for the applications in their wards do not know yet how the development control will be operated. It is thought that much more delegated authority to determine schemes at officer level will be introduced. A borough Sustainable Development Committee might have more cases to cover but only one or two Councillors of the area being discussed for an application would be present and there would be more reliance on the case officer's report and interpretation of policy and impact. "

He added, " Political attitudes could be a problem again, depending on how the majority party considers parts of the borough that do not elect members of their party. "

On the other hand he points out that because no decision would be made at area committee meeting, more public discussion on the schemes would be allowed and Councillors would not be prevented any longer from presenting local comments to the SDC.

June 2, 2011