Criticism that too many planning decisions decided by officers
Amendments to planning applications passed by committee should not be approved by officers without the say-so of councillors.
That’s the view of one councillor amid an ongoing row over paid officers being delegated the rights to amend developments after being green-lighted by elected members.
Calls for an independent review were raised two years ago in relation to planning approval to demolish the derelict Plas Pistyll hotel near Nefyn and replace it with 36 luxury chalets.
According to several councillors, however, the subsequent development does not match what was approved in 2012 by the authority’s planning committee after six separate amendments were passed by planning officers without again going in front of committee.
These include delete the condition that restricted people from residing in one of the holiday unit for more than three months, plans to build a reception to service the site, installing roof lights and a gable, and changing staff accommodation to holiday unit use.
Cllr Gruff Williams, who has been outspoken against the development, told a meeting of the Communities Scrutiny Committee on Thursday that such measures represented a “loss of democracy” and questioned why so many applications were being decided by officers.
He was also critical of changes to the authority’s planning system which he described as making it more difficult for members to access the weekly lists of the latest planning applications – despite assurances that councillors were free to “call in” any proposed developments in their wards to the planning committee.
“I would like if the department put ay changes to a previously approved application by the planning committee automatically back to members as we have seen how issues can arise by not doing so,” added Cllr Williams.
But officers stated their view that automatically referring all amendments to committee would be “a step back,” while conceding that local members still had a major role to play in monitoring applications in their area as what officers and local people viewed as contentious can vary dramatically.
Members were told, however, that efforts were underway to re-establish automatic emails to inform members of all new applications in their areas.
The authority’s constitution was amended following a 2017 scrutiny investigation found that planning meetings were discussing too many applications.
It had been found that approximately 10 applications were appear on every planning committee agenda, and sometimes as much as 16.
As a result, a balance was struck where more powers were delegated to officers in cases thought not to be contentious, with the frequency and length of meetings being reduced as a result.
Since then, the number of applications presented to committee fell from 9% in 2016/17 to a current figure of 6% – matching the Welsh average.
The report noted, “This has enabled the Planning Committee to focus on the largest applications in terms of scale, as well as the most contentious applications.
“In addition, this has enabled the Planning Service to draw a better comparison with the all-Wales average, as well as the other benefits of releasing officers’ time to focus on the 94% of other applications that need a timely decision.”
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
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