Planning overhaul ‘would impact on council democracy’

L21180H13-JamesWalsh - L21116H13-JamesWalsh  200513  LP

James Walsh, longest serving member of West Sussex County Council. Pictured at home  at Tithe Barn in  Rustington. ENGSUS00120130520154825
L21180H13-JamesWalsh - L21116H13-JamesWalsh 200513 LP James Walsh, longest serving member of West Sussex County Council. Pictured at home at Tithe Barn in Rustington. ENGSUS00120130520154825

Changes to the way planning applications are dealt with which would reduce the say of district and parish councillors have been criticised.

Arun District Council’s development control committee will discuss plans to cut the number of small-scale applications it debated today (Wednesday, June 15).

The measures would see council officers instead of elected councillors decide all householder applications, regardless of objections from residents or parishes.

“These proposals as set out are an affront to democracy and accountability,” said Derrick Chester, Littlehampton town councillor for Cornfield ward.

“Without consultation they propose to remove the safeguard of having disputed planning applications referred to a panel of councillors to be determined.”

A report to the committee states ‘too many small-scale applications’ are considered by members, resulting in meaty agendas which increase officer workload and leave less time for detailed debate.

In the last year, councillors overturned the recommendation of officers in just seven out of 150 cases.

Only three per cent of householder applications were overturned, leading to the changes proposed.

All householder applications would be decided by officers, while a rule that would see plans automatically discussed by councillors if five or more objections were received would be scrapped.

Parish Councils, which can currently call-in controversial items, would have their ability to do so restricted to ‘minor’ and ‘major’ applications.

Officers admitted this was likely to spark objection but noted other authorities had taken similar steps and claimed it would lead to ‘quicker decisions’.

District, county and town councillor Dr James Walsh said: “I am shocked because Arun is always saying it believes in devolution and passing things down to the lowest level and yet by their actions they are going in the opposite direction.”

Dr Walsh noted how last year Littlehampton Town Council took part in devolution pilot which saw it take responsibility from Arun for deciding householder applications. Arun deemed the pilot unsuccessful.