What is the decision making process? - The Practical Determination of Applications during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Introduction of Additional Delegated Powers and Committee Procedures

Background

At this challenging time, the ordinary service delivery of the statutory Planning function inclusive of the Planning Committee role in that process, is impacted through resourcing issues arising from self-isolation and the practicalities of remote working following government guidance. This is having the resultant impact that applications are being determined with a greater degree of difficulty due to the implementation of necessary safety measures. As such, the introduction of additional delegated powers to the Chief Planning Officer (implemented 07 May 2020) will enable continued support to the economic prosperity of the district in practicable terms and move towards a new ‘temporary’ way of Planning Committee decision making.

Delegated Powers

The Chief Executive has invoked his delegated decision making provisions as detailed in the Councils Constitution, in order to introduce additional delegated powers for a period of four months from the date of implementation. This will be kept under review during and at the end of this period and applies to the decision making of planning applications that would in normal circumstances be referred to Planning Consultation Group (PCG) or Planning Committee in accordance with the Council’s adopted Scheme of Delegation and Statement of Community Involvement.

The additional powers will enable more applications than at present, to be determined by the Head of Regeneration in their capacity as Chief Planning Officer of the Council, whilst the most significant or contentious applications remain heard at either the Planning Consultation Group or Planning Committee. This will streamline the process to facilitate the ease of Planning Committee decision making whilst still enabling the transparency of decision making.

Applications which cannot be delegated under normal provisions or the additional powers (as detailed in the arrangements shown on the attached temporary Scheme of Delegation) will be referred to PCG or Planning Committee. Examples of applications which may be referred to Planning Committee under the temporary arrangement are to be limited to those of a scale to be significant as detailed in the Temporary Scheme of Delegation, where there is potential for questions over transparency, i.e. the Council’s own applications, or where the applications are called-in by Members on a material planning ground and there is significant public interest (significant being defined as in excess of 10 objections in the urban conurbations).

Planning Committee Procedures

The 1972 Local Government Act requires Councillors to be physically present to decide applications, and there was no provision for remote participation or voting enacted. The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (better known as the Coronavirus Act 2020) has now laid down Regulations before Parliament to enable greater flexibility for the holding of Council meetings, in particular, provision for persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place.

In light of the Government guidance on social distancing and the provision in the Coronavirus Act 2020, the following procedures for the Planning Consultation Group and Planning Committee are introduced to consider planning applications, the latter being a decision making forum whilst PCG is a Member advisory group. These provisions will be implemented initially for a period of 4 calendar months from the date of implementation, but will be kept under review as necessary.

Further arrangements to ensure the ongoing economic prosperity of the district are implemented:

  • Meetings of the Planning Consultation Group to be convened ‘virtually’ on a 2-weekly basis using appropriate technology, e.g. Skype or Microsoft Teams.
  • Meetings of the Planning Committee, where determinations are made, are to be convened ‘virtually’ following the implementation of amendments to legislation regarding the hosting of virtual meetings by Local Authorities’, using Microsoft Teams. If technology cannot be enabled, the meetings will be hosted in a virtual conferencing room established on Council premises observing social distancing guidelines.
  • Meetings to commence at 6:30pm on the day scheduled
  • Suspend public (physical) attendance at the meeting, but invite interested parties[1] to participate in the virtual meeting by one of three methods:
    1. Through invitation during the virtual Planning Committee meeting via a Microsoft Teams invitation if the interested party has that IT capability
    2. Through the submission of an audio recording (of no more than 3 minutes) to be received by the Council no later than two days before the scheduled Committee date to enable verification prior to the Committee
    3. Through the submission of a written statement with a limited 300 word count, to be received no later than two days prior to the virtual Committee and it will be circulated to Councillors as soon as is practicable.
  • Agendas to be published in accordance with current timescales, i.e. 5 working days prior to the meeting of the Planning Committee
  • The Case Officer presentation to be prepared and made available online on the Council’s Planning page 5 working days prior to the meeting of the Planning Committee.
  • Members of the Planning Committee are encouraged to forward questions to the Planning Development Manager, to be received no later than noon the day before Committee – questions and responses will publicised on Public Access when received where and summarised in the Planning Committee Meeting by the Lead Officer
  • During the ‘virtual’ meeting, the Lead Officer/Case Officer will introduce the application, giving a brief overview including photographs and plans and table any updates
  • In the case of virtual meetings, the Chairperson will move around the Planning Committee Members in alphabetical order offering two separate rounds of questions followed by a round of summarising comments before the vote is taken.
  • The general public are to be excluded from physically attending the Planning Committee but meetings will be livestreamed in accordance with legislative requirements and made available for viewing following the link on the Councils webpage

[1] Representations are limited to one from each interest group on a first come first served basis, i.e. Applicant/Agent, Objector, Supporter, Neighbourhood Planning Group, Parish Council, Ward Councillor(s) and/or County Councillor

Statement of Community Involvement – Planning Services

As the method in which decisions are temporarily amended, it is necessary to also temporarily amend the Councils Statement of Community Involvement. This statement should therefore be read in conjunction with the published Statement of Community Involvement for Planning Services

https://www.bassetlaw.gov.uk/media/5435/sci-2020-adoption.pdf

The Council adopted the Statement of Community Involvement in January 2020. This document details how the council will inform, involve and consult with the community in plan making and decision taking.

The Planning Decisions Protocol of the Authority is detailed at paragraphs 7.38 – 7.45 of the Statement of Community Involvement.  This section refers to the existing method of decision-making and not that proposed as part of this temporary arrangement.

It is therefore emphasised that for the period of 4 calendar months commencing 07 May 2020 (to be reviewed after that time), that this section of the Statement of Community Involvement be superseded and read in conjunction with the Temporary Scheme of Delegation measures. 

Date: 07 May 2020

Author: Beverley Alderton-Sambrook, Head of Regeneration

 

 

 


Last Updated on Thursday, September 17, 2020