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Craven planning decisions could go to Bristol
6:00am Thursday 24th January 2013 in News
Major planning decisions are likely to be taken away from Craven District Council if government plans aimed at kick-starting the economy go ahead.
The council, which has a poor record with planning appeals, is at “serious risk” of being classed a poorly performing authority, councillors were warned.
And unless it can swiftly improve its performance, it could find the making of decisions on major applications taken away from it – removing the need for a planning committee.
It would still mean that the ground work on applications would still be carried out by the council’s officers, but the decisions would be made by the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol.
And that would also mean that the council would no longer receive planning fees - which would represent a financial loss to the council.
At last week’s planning committee meeting, Ian Swain, development control manager, said there was a “serious risk” that Craven could be judged a poorly performing planning authority.
Committee chairman David Ireton said the council would have to change the way it dealt with planning applications.
“We’re going to have to be less accommodating, we can’t do all the work without getting the planning fee, we are in enough financial difficulties as we are,” he said.
Mr Swain told the meeting that the government was proposing taking decision making away for a year from authorities that it deemed to be performing poorly.
It could come into effect in October and will be based on councils’ previous two years performance.
Mr Swain said the council would squeeze through on the length of time it took for the council to make a decision, but he believed Craven’s record of going to appeal and losing was well off the mark.
Of the last six planning applications refused by councillors against advice of planning officers, all of them had been overturned by a planning inspector.
They included the housing development at Green Lane, Glusburn, for which the council had to pay £8,350 in costs, and a small extension at Princes Crescent, Skipton, which cost the council £747 in costs.
Of the seven refusal decisions made along with officer recommendation that went to appeal, only one was allowed.
Overall, half of the council’s most recent refusal decisions were overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.
“It will be extremely difficult to avoid being designated as a poorly performing authority,” said Mr Swain.
He said councillors would have to adhere to the policies of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
“In particular, significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth,” he said.
Coun Robert Heseltine (Ind) said it appeared that the council was “up the creek without a paddle” and criticised the coalition Government for being out of touch with popular opinion.
Coun Stephen Place (Ind) said ward councillors were often faced with a difficult decision of whether to go along with the officers’ recommendation, or support their wards. He said: “I would love there to be a rule that if there was a planning decision in my ward, I would like to be able to declare an interest, so I’d be there to fight for my ward, but when the decision was made, I’d leave the room. It would take off my shoulders the burden of expectation."
Coun Paul English (LIb Dem) reminded his colleagues that the changes were just proposals at the moment and that the idea was to help the building of homes and boost the economy.
He also believed it could put an end to “nimbyism”.
“A number of people I talk to say yes, we need houses, but not in that field.”
Coun English thought a number of appeals lost by the council could be blamed on the fact the council still did not have its Local Development Framework in place, but he believed as a ward member who sat on the planning committee, difficult decisions had to be made.
“I’ve had people burning effigies of me outside Skipton Town Hall,” he said.