THE Government has promised new planning guidance that will ‘defend the interests of local authorities’ after an amendment to abolish an appeals body was made.
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert told the Commons that local councils are being undermined by the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate.
The executive agency, responsible for planning and appeals, can rule against the decisions of a local planning committee without referring back to residents or councillors.
Mr Herbert said: “Too often, the Planning Inspectorate either upholds on appeal a local authority’s decisions to decline those applications or terrifies the local authority into submission, so that it gives permission because it knows that otherwise it would lose an appeal and would have to spend a great deal of money on doing so. The Planning Inspectorate is meant to stand in the shoes of ministers. I submit that ministers could stand in their own shoes and take decisions themselves if they had to interfere.”
Mr Herbert also pointed out the inequality in the current system as only planning developers can appeal an application.
He added: “When we set out to give local communities the right to make decisions, and when we say that we will give people local power, we should mean it.”
Councillor Ricky Bower, Arun District Council’s cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, also voiced his concerns.
He feels a re-organisation is needed so the inspectors have more local knowledge.
“At present, the appointed inspector may have no knowledge of local conditions,” he said.
However, Littlehampton East county councillor Dr James Walsh is opposed to axing the inspectorate.
He said: “They have a useful function in that they cause a level playing field effect. If we were not to have them, there would be no independent review of a planning application. Sometimes, the plans drawn locally don’t comply with the regulations set out by the Government or do not work fully in the face of common sense. It is a sensible check that can work both ways.”
Dr Walsh said he welcomed ‘the general idea of loosening up some of the tightly-wound regulations on planning’ but did not think the answer was to abolish the inspectorate.