Behind Closed Doors….
Public Comments and Transparency
In December 2018, Powys County Council stopped publishing third party comments on the planning applications website.
According to Powys CC they have insufficient staff resource to redact public comments for web-site viewing and thus the risk of data protection breaches is too great.
The result is that representations from the public and stakeholder organisations are not included on the planning portal. Detailed information from well respected environmental organisations and residents’ knowledge of specific local factors are effectively hidden from view.
Since the information should be available on request, third party correspondence is available for inspection at either Powys County Hall or Neuadd Maldwyn by appointment only. Powys CC states an appointment is necessary because staff time has to be allowed to fully prepare the information by redacting all sensitive data.
Residents who are able to make the journey in business working hours still report difficulty, delays and wasted journeys in actually viewing paper files and have no confidence that the resulting files, made up specifically for the viewing occasion, are complete.
Planning Committee members cannot readily see resident and stakeholder representations. They have to rely on a very brief summary from the Case Officer, who is at the same time presenting their own reasons for either approval or refusal of the application in question.
Thus, at committee, the Case Officer is potentially presenting both their reasons for advising approval of an application whilst supposedly representing everyone else’s reasons for refusing it, or vice versa.
This obviously makes a very public nonsense of the efficacy of the planning committee itself, reducing it in effect to a body of impotent ‘yes persons’…
Its almost as if Powys doesn’t really need a planning committee anymore…?
In January 2020 the Democratic Services committee recommended changes to the decision making process within Powys County Council’s Constitution, which were duly voted through.
These changes vastly increased the scope of the planning department to consent and refuse developments without reference to planning committee hearings, at the same time removing the public/stakeholder representations that were a part of this process.
Planning decisions by ‘Delegated Powers’ are now standard on all but a very limited list of developments, listed as:
• Major applications made by Powys Council or affecting its property
• Applications submitted by a councillor or staff
• Departures from the development plan
• Applications referred to the committee by a senior planning officer
Formerly any application requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment (eg. large scale intensive farming units) would automatically have to be presented via planning committee. This adjustment of the criteria has not only removed the planning committee, but in effect shut down the platform for transparent public representation and press reporting on applications with environmental implications.
Call it in…. Call it out….
Further reading of Section 13 of the Constitution still states (A1 section E) that ‘where a Councillor registers a request in accordance with the Planning Call-In Procedure (Planning Protocol Section 19) that a planning application be referred to the Planning, Taxi Licensing and Rights of Way Committee for decision and not determined by the Relevant Planning Officer.
According to Planning Protocol Section 19:
19.51 A Councillor (whether a member of the Planning Committee or not) may:
19.51.1 in respect of a Planning Application in their electoral divisions, or which affect their electoral division, request, that such Planning Application which ordinarily would be determined by the Professional Lead – Development Management will be determined by the Planning Committee and in this Protocol a Councillor making such a request will be referred to as exercising “the power of Call-in”.
19.51.2 in respect of a planning application in their electoral division, or which affect their electoral division, where they believe that application is likely to be controversial, exercise the power of Call-in, but may withdraw that Call-in in accordance with Rules 19.57.
… But here we are faced with a catch 22 situation, for how do we assess whether a development is controversial within the community (electoral division)? Namely by the number and subject matter of public comments. Where do we find evidence of these? See above Public Comments and Transparency!
…and shake it all about…
In the light of this, surely all ward Councillors should be sent, as standard procedure, all community correspondence received by the Council, before a decision is reached, so that they can make an informed decision on whether the application is indeed ‘controversial’, and whether or not it should be called in.
FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS IN THE PLANNING PROCESS:
The pre application scandal….
As Powys CC Planning department continue to ‘streamline’ the application process, a worrying emphasis is now being placed on the pre-application process.
Applicants for planning permission, especially for larger developments, are being encouraged to use the pre-application phase as the route to getting approval in principle from the planning department and other statutory consultees before the application goes in officially, so they can pass it in the quickest time available with as little fuss as possible.
This has been publicly admitted by Ian Pick, an independent planning agent responsible for a huge amount of Powys IPU applications in an article in the Guardian June 2021. Commenting on the planning process he is quoted as saying:
“The sheer cost of the process means we don’t even apply unless we’re 99.9% certain they’ll get through,” he says, pointing to the average £50-£60k outlay for a planning application and reports for a four broiler-shed site.”
Both Ian Pick Associates and Roger Parry & Partners, acting as agents for IPU applicants, are now running the pre-application ‘community consultations’ from their own web sites. Any objectors are thus encouraged to submit their concerns to the very people who have a vested interested (ie. a percentage of that £50-£60k outlay) in making sure the planning applications are approved.
The idea that they are truthfully going to represent alternative community views is totally unrealistic, and the fact that, as agents for the application, they are in effect ‘running’ the community consultation is completely inappropriate.
Another very worrying fact about the pre-application process is that the document/reports consultees are being shown are ‘drafts’. These documents often contain errors and omissions that can no doubt be excused by the fact that they aren’t the ‘official’ or ‘final’ documents. However these are the very same documents that have been produced to ensure that 99.9% certainty of approval.
Whilst Section 13 of Powys CC Constitution still states that:
All decisions of the Council will be made in accordance with the following principles:
13.2.3 respect for human rights;
13.2.4 a presumption in favour of openness;
13.2.5 clarity of aims and desired outcomes;
13.2.6 consideration of any alternative options;
One wonders how they can justify the current system they are using in relation to these criteria?
Applications in process
Total number of chickens under consideration
Powys Pending Applications:
Facts & Figures
IPU planning applications
April 1 2017 – April 1, 2020
Snowdonia National Park: 2
Isle of Anglesey: 1
Brecon Beacons: 0
Blaenau Gwent: 0
Merthy Tydfil: 0
Neath Port Talbot: 0
Rhondda Cynon Taf: 0
Vale of Glamorgan: 0