Planning Changes Proposed to Encourage Greater Engagement
Proposals to update the South Gloucestershire planning system have been published ahead of the meeting of Full Council on Wednesday 18 July. The aim is to simplify procedures and encourage the public, local councils and other stakeholders to raise questions earlier in the decision-making process.
A review of the existing system highlighted that many residents did not always feel able to give their views to decision-makers; and elected Members sitting on Development Control Committees can spend as long considering a simple home extension as they did applications for whole new neighbourhoods.
The changes proposed are designed to make the system more transparent; to encourage residents, Town and Parish Councils and other stakeholders to engage early in the process; and to better show what decisions are made, by who and why.
The review of the current system found many aspects of the South Gloucestershire system worked well and these would be retained. If adopted, the new approach would also reflect best practice from other council areas, which have been developed since South Gloucestershire Council last updated its planning procedures in the 1990’s.
Key features of the proposed new system include:
• All planning applications received by the council would be streamed, with the most straightforward, such as an extension or redevelopment of a single dwelling for example, being delegated to Officers, who will be able to make a decision based on existing planning rules. This means that simple, non-controversial applications are dealt with more quickly for residents.
• More impactful proposals would either be considered by the Strategic Sites Delivery Committee (SSDC), which would have responsibility to determine larger applications, or by the Development Management Committee (DMC), which would consider applications of a locally significant, but non-strategic nature, up to around 10 new homes, for example.
• A Spatial Planning Committee (SPC) would oversee planning decision-making and advise on planning policy formulation for the council.
• The SPC would also build-in an opportunity for councillors to re-evaluate any decision taken by the SSDC or DMC if they resolve to ‘overturn’ recommendations by officers. This would ensure that decisions taken are in the best interests of the public and don’t expose the council (and council taxpayers) to unnecessary risks and costs, which can arise if a developer appeals a council decision. This referral system is established practice in many local authorities
• Membership of the each of the committees would be made up of councillors from all parties.
• Elected Members would be able to escalate ‘smaller’ applications and refer them for consideration by committee instead of by officers, if they believe a development would have a significant local impact.
• The old Development Control East and West Committees would cease, being replaced by the above.