Your Councillors


Democracy Committee

13 March 2019

 

Planning Committee Terms of Reference

 

Final Decision-Maker

Council

Lead Head of Service/Lead Director

Angela Woodhouse

Head of Policy, Communications and Governance

Lead Officer and Report Author

Ryan O’Connell, Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Classification

Public

 

Wards affected

All

 

Executive Summary

 

This report outlines amendments to the Terms of Reference of Planning Committee, to ensure that best practice is followed in the administration of calling-in Planning Applications to the Committee.

 

 

This report makes the following recommendations to the Democracy Committee

 

That Council is recommended to approve the amendments to the Terms of Reference of Planning Committee in the Council’s Constitution, attached as Appendix 1 to this report.

 

 

Timetable

Meeting

Date

Democracy Committee

13 March 2019

Council

10 April 2019



Planning Committee Terms of Reference

 

 

1.      INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

 

1.1     During the regular process of reviewing the Constitution, anomalies with the Terms of Reference of the Planning Committee, in relation to the call-in of Planning Applications, have been identified. These anomalies are not considered best practice, and rationalisation of the terms of reference is required.

 

Planning Committee Political Group Spokespersons

1.2     The current terms of reference for the Planning Committee allow Planning Committee Political Group Spokespersons (‘Spokespersons’) to call-in Planning Applications to Planning Committee.

1.3     This power, in effect, could be seen as giving a political route into the decision making of the Planning Committee and the Planning Committee should not be political due to its quasi judicial nature.  Call-ins must be made by Members on relevant Planning Grounds, and not for political reasons. Although there is no suggestion that the call-ins made by spokespersons have been politically motivated, the perception of allowing a political route of calling in applications to Committee needs to be addressed even if the call-in power has not been exercised in this way.

 

1.4     Public perception is key to ensuring confidence in decision making. As political group spokespersons are members of the Committee there is an increased risk of negative public perception of Members retaining an open mind on the matter in front of them, where it has been called in by a member of the Committee.

1.5     It is unclear as to why this provision was added into the Constitution, although it has been suggested that it dates back to the pre-2000 Committee System of governance that was in place at Maidstone Borough Council where Spokespersons were appointed to each Committee.

1.6     The Planning Committee appoints Spokespersons at its first meeting of the year from the Political Groups represented on the Planning Committee. Under the Committee’s current composition this means that members from the Independent Maidstone Group do not have a Spokesperson and are unable to exercise the call in procedure. Therefore the current arrangements are not equitable to all political parties represented on the Council.

1.7     Following a review of other District Councils, it was identified that Maidstone was unique in having this provision within its Constitution. Enquiries were sent via the Association of Democratic Services Officers to see whether any other authorities had a similar arrangement in place, and it was confirmed that none of the respondents had similar arrangements.

1.8     Compared to other District Councils, most either opened up the call-in procedure to all Council members, providing the reason for the call-in was a relevant planning consideration, or restricted the power of call-in to ward members or ward members affected by proposed development.

1.9     In order to remove this anomaly in the Constitution, it is proposed to remove the call-in powers of the Spokespersons and retain the right of Ward Members to call-in planning applications. The wording will be amended, however, to allow those ward members of affected wards to call-in applications as well.

Parish Council Call-ins

1.10 Alongside the amendment above, a further amendment is required to clarify the power of call-in for Parish Councils. Currently the Constitution states that a Planning Application can be called-in to Committee if it is ‘contrary to the written view of any Parish Council and the Parish Council has requested that the application is determined by the Planning Committee’. The current wording could be interpreted as meaning that any Parish Council is able to call in any planning application in the Borough, providing they have made an objection and requested that the application be considered by Committee. This has not happened in practice, and there is no suggestion that Parish Councils are using their call in powers inappropriately. However it is important to ensure that the call-in power of Parish Councils reflect the arrangements made for Ward Members. Therefore the amendment outlined in Appendix 1 for this section of the Terms of Reference is also proposed.

 

1.11 In the current the terms of reference there is a risk that a planning application is called-into Planning Committee which is based on concerns which are not planning related or relate to issues which are within the purview of the statutory consultee over which the Council has little, if any, control.  As such, discretion should be exercised in using this power and a planning application should only be called-in where, in the opinion of the Head of Planning and Development, there is a relevant planning issue which warrants consideration by the Planning Committee.  

Amendments to the Constitution

1.12 Proposed amendments to the Constitution as a result of the changes outlined above can be found in Appendix 1 to this report.

 

2.        AVAILABLE OPTIONS

 

2.1     The Committee could recommend that Council amend the Planning Committee Terms of Reference to remove reference to Planning Committee Political Group Spokespersons. This would eliminate an area that could lead to bad practice, and ensure that the arrangements for Planning Committee are in line with other similar District Councils. Amending the terms of reference in relation to the Parish Council call-in powers would ensure that there was parity between Ward Members, Parish Council powers to call-in applications.  Furthermore, discretion should be exercised in calling-in a planning application and as such a planning application should only be called-in where there is a relevant planning issue which warrants consideration by the Planning Committee

 

2.2     An alternative to restricting the right of call-in to Ward Members only would be to open up the call-in powers to all Members. There would be a risk that call-ins could increase if this happens.

 

2.3     The Committee could recommend that Council could do nothing, and not make amendments to the Planning Committee’s terms of reference.

 

 

3.        PREFERRED OPTION AND REASONS FOR RECOMMENDATIONS

 

3.1     The option outlined in paragraph 2.1 is the preferred option, as it ensures that the Council is working in line with best practice.

 

 

4.       RISK

4.1    The risks associated with this proposal, including the risks if the Council does not act as recommended, have been considered in line with the Council’s Risk Management Framework. We are satisfied that the risks associated are within the Council’s risk appetite and will be managed as per the Policy.

 

 

5.       CONSULTATION RESULTS AND PREVIOUS COMMITTEE FEEDBACK

 

5.1     Consultation with the key Member stakeholders has bene carried out prior to drafting these proposals.

 

 

6.       NEXT STEPS: COMMUNICATION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DECISION

 

6.1     If the amendments to the Constitution are recommended by this Committee they will be considered by Council at its April meeting.

 

 

7.       CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS

 

Issue

Implications

Sign-off

Impact on Corporate Priorities

Accepting the recommendations will improve the Council’s ability to achieve its corporate priorities through improving the Council’s governance and reducing the risk of the challenge of Planning Committee decisions.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Risk Management

See paragraph 4.1.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Financial

There are no financial implications associated with this the recommendations in the report.

Director of Finance and Business Improvement

Staffing

No implications.

 

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Legal

Accepting the recommendations will improve the Council’s governance and reduce the risk of challenge of Planning Committee decisions.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Privacy and Data Protection

No implications.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Equalities

No impact identified.

Equalities and Corporate Policy Officer

Public Health

No implications.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Crime and Disorder

No implications.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

Procurement

No implications.

Democratic and Electoral Services Manager

 

8.        REPORT APPENDICES

 

The following documents are to be published with this report and form part of the report:

·         Appendix 1: Proposed Amendments to Planning Committee’s Terms of Reference

 

 

9.        BACKGROUND PAPERS

 

None