Report of the Executive Director of Growth Planning and Housing and Director of Place Shaping and Town Planning
4.1 The Committee received a report from the Executive Director of Growth
Planning and Housing and Director of Place Shaping and Town Planning providing an update on the Planning Review Programme of work to deliver improvements to the processes and practices of the planning services to address the findings of the review carried out by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS), which were endorsed by Cabinet on 25 October 2018. Cabinet had approved the direction of travel of the planning service, to make the service more proactive, transparent and focused on the delivery of the Council’s City for All vision and other corporate priorities.
4.2 Members held discussions on the key recommendations identified in the PAS Report. These included: -
4.2.1 Public Speaking at Planning Applications Sub-Committees.
· The Committee noted that public speaking had been introduced at Planning Sub-Committees in February 2019 and that a formal review of the procedures would be undertaken six months after its introduction. There had been several requests to speak at Planning Sub-Committee since February 2019 and the need for arbitration to determine who could make verbal representations had not arisen. Nevertheless, it was recognised that the procedures for public speaking needed to be embedded and fully tested. A report which provided a detailed analysis of public speaking at the Planning Sub-Committees will be presented at the next Committee.
· Members commented that the procedures and guidance for making verbal representations at the Planning Sub-Committees were effective. The Committee noted that the Major Sub-Committee had considered a Planning Application for Dolphin Square and highlighted that the application was contentious and had generated a large interest. The Committee was pleased to note that all interested parties were aware of the process for making verbal representations at the Planning Sub-Committee.
· Members noted that there were speaking slots for both Ward Councillors and Amenity Societies. The Committee agreed that speakers should be advised to fully utilise their allocated speaking time and be provided information and encouraged to read the guidance on what topics are considered by the Sub-Committee. This information should be provided prior to the meeting. Members advised that residents were satisfied that they were involved in the planning process and able to verbally address the Planning Sub-Committees.
4.2.2 The Committee noted that live recording and streaming of Planning Applications Sub-Committee meetings was to be introduced as soon as technically possible.
4.3 Pre-application Community and Member Engagement
4.3.1 Members were advised that the development of the pre-application and community and member engagement scheme were still in the preliminary stages and that consideration was being made on how all interested parties were to be involved. These included ensuring that the process adopted was equitable and encouraged consensus. There were also discussions about the guidelines and the importance of these procedures clearly setting out the purpose of this scheme and ensuring that the process was easily understood. The Sub-Committee were advised that officers had reviewed models in other Local Authorities and these exercises had been productive and informative.
4.3.2 Members noted that the Pre-application Community and Member Engagement scheme would increase the interaction between officers and councillors. The Sub-Committee was advised that there were various models being considered which would enable interested parties to engage with Members. The Cabinet Member and the Chair were to be consulted about the proposed models.
4.4 Achieving Closer Alignment and Developing Relations with other Services and Directorates.
4.4.1 Member’s noted that the PAS report encouraged closer alignment between development management officers and other departments and teams and raised questions on how other Service Areas such as Housing, Public Protection and Licensing fitted under these proposals. The Committee was advised that there was already collaborative working between departments, and this was to continue. This was also necessary to ensure that the objectives of the Westminster City Plan were met.
4.5 Enhancing Transparency and Maintaining Probity
4.5.1 Members were informed that the ‘Guidance for Members Making Planning Decisions’ document had been updated to reflect changes in the Town and County Planning Legislation, Regulations, Council Policies and Procedures. The Guidance also included a segment on ‘Good Practise In Planning’, advice for ‘Site Visits’ and also the Nolan Principles.
4.5.2 Members noted that the Guidance included a section on ‘Bias and Predetermination’ and commented on the difficulties in demonstrating that ‘they had followed a consistently fair approach between all parties when considering a case’. The Committee agreed that the above concerns would be negated if it was demonstrated that a ‘fair process’ was followed when considering the planning applications and in the verbal exchanges between parties during the sub-committees. The Committee recommended that a section on ‘do’s and don’ts at Planning Sub-Committees should be included in the Guide.
4.5.3 Members held a short discussion on pre-determination and pre-disposition and noted that the former was undesirable. The Committee noted that a separate training session on the Code of Conduct would be arranged for the Planning Sub-Committee Members.
4.5.4 The Legal Officer advised that all gifts and hospitalities needed to be declared and that timelines did not apply in these areas. Members agreed that a segment should be included in the Guidance about the requirements to declare gifts and hospitalities which had been received both prior and after decisions of planning sub-committees.
4.5.5 The Draft Guidance for Members Making Planning Decisions’ would be considered at the Standards Committee. The recommendations of the Standard’s Committee would be incorporated into the final document. The Sub-Committee was advised that the Guidance was fit for purpose and would ensure that the objectives of the Planning Review were met.
4.6 Recruitment and Retention:
4.6.1 Members noted that officers’ roles would be enhanced following the proposed changes under the new Delegated Authority scheme and raised questions on whether junior officers would be affected under the revised scheme. Officers confirmed that the junior officer’s roles would be altered, and that senior staff would provide support. Members noted that there would be a working cultural shift and acknowledged the importance of ensuring that the appropriate officers were placed in suitable areas under the Delegated Authority scheme before the new work structure became embedded.
4.7 Members commended Officers for the introduction and implementation of public speaking at planning sub-committees and for ensuring that Members engagement with interested parties were undertaken in a transparent way. The Committee agreed that the above mentioned encouraged better decision-making at planning applications.
1. That the contents of the report and the ongoing work to implement measures to address the findings of the PAS report as part of the wider Planning Review programme be noted.
2. That the draft Guidance for Members – Making Planning Decisions subject to the incorporation of views and advice of the Standards Committee at their meeting on 11th July 2019 be approved, and agreed to delegate publication of the final version to the Director of Place Shaping and Town Planning, following consultation with the Director of Law and Chair of the Planning and City Development Committee.