To invite Council to approve and adopt the changes to the Planning Scheme of Delegation which was determined by Planning Committee at its meeting on 12February 2020 and to confirm the consequential changes to the Constitution.
AGREED to approve and adopt the changes to the Planning Scheme of Delegation as set out in Appendix A which was determined by Planning Committee at its meeting on the 12th February and authorise officers to confirm the necessary changes to the constitution that have been made and to allow officers to proceed to take delegated decisions.
Councillor Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Lead Cabinet Member for Planning, presented this report, which recommended amendments to the Planning Scheme of Delegation that had been agreed by the Planning Committee on 12 February 2020. In moving the recommendation, Councillor Dr. Hawkins stated that the proposed amendment would remove ambiguity. She explained that the Planning Scheme of Delegations was changed in 2016, to allow decisions to be referred to the Planning Committee if the Chairman of the Committee and the Joint Director of Planning agreed to reasons provided by the Parish Council or Local Member. It was noted that the Planning Advisory Service had been commissioned to undertake a review of the three Greater Cambridge planning committees later in the year.
Councillor John Batchelor seconded the recommendation.
Councillor Heather Williams proposed and Councillor Nick Wright seconded the following amendment:
“That the motion be amended by the deletion of the words shown in strikethrough and the addition of the words shown in bold text
4. It is recommended that Council: -
(a) Approves and adopts the changes to the Planning Scheme of Delegation as set out inAppendix A, which was determined by Planning Committee at its meeting on the 12th February, subject to the amendment of the paragraph numbered 1 in the Powers and Functions delegated by Planning Committee in Appendix A to read as follows:
1. A local member or Parish Council
writes, or emails a request for a particular application to be
considered by Planning Committee,
sound planning reasons are
given for why this is considered necessary and the request is
accepted by the Joint Director of Planning and Economic
Development, in consultation with the Chair of Planning Committee
(or Vice-Chair in his/her absence).and the officer’s
recommendation is in conflict with that of the parish council or
the local member who has made the request.
officers to confirm the necessary changes to the constitution that
have been made, subject to the further change, as set out above,
being made, and to allow officers to proceed to take delegated
Councillor Heather Williams expressed the view that the amendment was democratic and would encourage more involvement from residents, which would enhance the reputation of the Council and restore faith in the planning system.
Councillor Dr. Tumi Hawkins stated that the right for an automatic referral had been removed by the Conservative administration in 2016. Parish councils were statutory consultees, their views were valued and their concerns were recognised, but an automatic referral would remove the control of the Planning Committee’s agenda away from the Council to parish councils. Many parish councillors were elected unopposed, so to empower them in this way could be regarded as undemocratic. The Council would engage with parish councils in the forthcoming review.
Councillor Deborah Roberts stated that the Leader had written to all parish councils, promising full participation in the consultation process, but the consultation had not happened and so it was wrong to make a decision now. She asserted that parish councils brought local knowledge to the process and she objected to the comment that they were not elected.
Councillor Peter McDonald stated that there needed to be a compromise between working efficiently and working democratically. He trusted the Chair to challenge officers with any concerns raised by a parish council. He agreed that local members must have a full voice and that any decision not to refer an application to the Planning Committee needed a full explanation. Parish councils needed to be able to speak to officers, online if possible. He repeated that the changes had been made to the referral process in 2016.
Councillor Grenville Chamberlain said that the original motion would make the process less democratic and that if the Council believed in open and transparent governance, all tiers should have input into planning decisions. Parish councillors were hard working volunteers and their views should be taken seriously.
Councillor Ruth Betson read out statements from town and parish councils that expressed concern about the proposal to give the Joint Planning Director final say on whether applications went to the Planning Committee and stated that the number of planning applications going to the Committee had reduced since 2016.
Councillor Dr. Richard Williams suggested that the Council should trust parish councils and local members to use their power to defer a decision to the Planning Committee responsibly. It was democratic to empower local views.
Councillor Tom Bygott stated that the democratic decision making process should not be subverted in the name of efficient governance. Parish councils and local members should be allowed to refer applications to the Planning Committee regarding decisions that affected people’s lives.
Councillor Brian Milnes stated that the previous administration had removed the right of parish councils to automatically refer applications to the planning committee. He suggested that local members should work in harmony with parish councils to ensure that substantive concerns were taken into account.
Councillor Sue Ellington explained that her Parish Council has asked her to support the amendment, as they believed that their views had not been heard on issues that affected the village.
Councillor Dr. Martin Cahn stated that the proposed amendment prejudiced the Planning Advisory Service review, which would consult with all statutory consultees, including parish councils.
Councillor Nick Wright stated that 99% of decisions were taken by officers and so it was reasonable to make the process more democratic and allow more applications to be determined by the Planning Committee. He suggested that agreeing the proposal unamended would give the impression that the Council was run by officers. He urged councillors to support the amendment, which he regarded as simple, clear, legal and fair.
A vote was taken on the amendment and votes were cast as follows:
In favour (12): Councillors Ruth Betson, Dr. Shrobona Bhattacharya, Tom Bygott, Grenville Chamberlain, Graham Cone, Sue Ellington, Mark Howell, Deborah Roberts, Bunty Waters, Heather Williams, Dr. Richard Williams and Nick Wright.
Against (27): Councillors Philip Allen, Henry Batchelor, John Batchelor, Anna Bradnam, Dr. Martin Cahn, Nigel Cathcart, Claire Daunton, Dr. Douglas de Lacey, Claire Delderfield, Peter Fane, Neil Gough, Jose Hales, Bill Handley, Philippa Hart, Geoff Harvey, Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Pippa Heylings, Steve Hunt, Peter McDonald, Brian Milnes, Dawn Percival, Nick Sample, Bridget Smith, Hazel Smith, Dr. Aidan Van de Weyer, John Williams and Eileen Wilson.
The Chairman declared the amendment LOST.
Councillor Dr. Aidan Van de Weyer referred to the views of the local MP on the motion but noted that he did not live in the District. He stated that he did not remember the Conservative members expressing concerns about democracy in 2016 when their administration introduced the current system. He supported constructive engagement with parish councils during the review.
Councillor Heather Williams expressed concern at the change that allowed an officer to prevent a planning application being determined by the Planning Committee, asserting that this power should reside with elected representatives. She stated that the local MP was elected by local residents and so his views were relevant.
Councillor Dr. Richard Williams suggested that the first two paragraphs of the proposed scheme were ambiguous and apparently contradictory and it was not clear whether the footnote was intended to be binding. The Deputy Head of Legal Practice/Monitoring Officer explained that the status of the footnote was as guidance for officers and that the proposed scheme had been subject to external legal scrutiny.
Councillor Neil Gough stated that these proposals had the right balance between due process and efficiency. He agreed that all parish councils should receive an explanation if their request for an application to be determined by the Planning Committee was rejected. It was probable that some concerns expressed were not material planning considerations. This feedback could promote understanding and proper engagement in the planning process.
Councillor Graham Cone stated that he opposed the motion, as it meant that councillors no longer decided what went to the Planning Committee. The vote by the Planning Committee on these proposals had been close, with 5 in favour, 4 against and 1 abstention.
Councillor Deborah Roberts asserted that the Council should have waited for the results of the consultation process. She was of the view that the proposals were giving too much power to officers and could be subject to a legal challenge.
Councillor Nick Wright suggested that after the independent review was complete, these proposed changes would have to be reversed.
Councillor Nigel Cathcart stated that there were sufficient safeguards in the proposals to protect the democratic process, as it ensured that valid points made by parish councils would be considered. He expressed concern that with the joint planning arrangements with the City Council, the interests of the District could suffer.
Councillor Dr. Claire Daunton expressed support for the proposals and asserted that the views of parish councils must be considered in the forthcoming review.
Councillor Tom Bygott opposed the motion, as he believed that it was undemocratic in an area that affected all residents.
Councillor Grenville Chamberlain stated that the views of parish councils should not be ignored and so he opposed the motion.
Councillor Pippa Heylings stated that as Vice Chair of the Planning Committee she was impressed by the time and effort made by parish councillors when engaging with the planning process. She supported the current review, which would ensure that the views of all interested parties were listened to.
Councillor John Batchelor stated that he was sympathetic to the points made, but the changes proposed were minor. As Chair of the Committee he would not be instructed what to do by officers. He urged members to support this “holding position”, which ensured the Council met its legal requirements, before the results of the review were known.
Councillor Dr. Tumi Hawkins recognised that this was an emotive subject, but believed that the proposals were the right balance between democracy and lawfulness. She explained that the three Team Leaders would have met with parish councils had it not been for the lockdown and that this meeting would now take place online. She recognised that the relationship between the Council and parish councils needed to improve. She indicated that parish councils would be given feedback whenever their request to refer an application to the Planning Committee was refused.
Upon the motion being put to the vote, votes were cast as follows:
In Favour (27): Councillors Philip Allen, Henry Batchelor, John Batchelor, Anna Bradnam, Dr. Martin Cahn, Nigel Cathcart, Dr. Claire Daunton, Dr. Douglas de Lacey, Claire Delderfield, Peter Fane, Neil Gough, Jose Hales, Bill Handley, Philippa Hart, Geoff Harvey, Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Pippa Heylings, Steve Hunt, Peter McDonald, Brian Milnes, Dawn Percival, Nick Sample, Bridget Smith, Hazel Smith, Dr. Aidan Van de Weyer, John Williams and Eileen Wilson.
Against (12): Councillors Ruth Betson, Dr. Shrobona Bhattacharya, Tom Bygott, Grenville Chamberlain, Graham Cone, Sue Ellington, Mark Howell, Deborah Roberts, Bunty Waters, Heather Williams, Dr. Richard Williams and Nick Wright.
RESOLVEDto approve and adopt the changes to the Planning Scheme of Delegation as set out in Appendix A which was determined by Planning Committee at its meeting on the 12th February and authorise officers to confirm the necessary changes to the constitution that have been made and to allow officers to proceed to take delegated decisions.