Committee Report NSC

                                                                                        Item 6.1

North Somerset Council

 

REPORT TO THE STRATEGIC PLANNING and Economic Development Policy AND Scrutiny Panel

 

Date of Meeting: 9 FEBRUARY 2009

 

Subject of Report: LOCAL CODE FOR MEMBER INVOLVEMENT in Planning Matters

 

Town or parish: All

 

Officer/Member presenting: Head of Development Control

 

Key Decision: No

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

That a local code of conduct to guide member involvement in planning matters is drafted for consultation and consideration

 

1.                Summary of Report

 

Councillor involvement in planning matters at the pre-application stage is recommended provided it takes place in accordance with agreed guidelines.  A local code of conduct for planning matters is the recommended away of providing these guidelines.

 

2.                Policy

 

This issue is consistent with Corporate Plan aim 6 “To improve the way we work” and the Directorate Service Strategy aim to provide a strong and responsive Development Control Service.  It is also relevant to the Development Control Group Service Plan which includes an area of focus to secure improvements in the quality of development by the promotion of supplementary advice, development briefing and pre-application discussions.

 

3.                Details

 

 

Councillor involvement in planning matters outside of the formal Committee decision-making forum has been considered in a number guidance documents.  The Standards Committee considered a report on the issue on 25 November 2008.  A copy of that report is attached.

 

In January 2007 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published a report on councillor involvement in planning decisions.  This studied and made recommendations on hypotheses about early member involvement; democratic decision making; decisions contrary to officer recommendation; and links between policy and decision making.  In terms of North Somerset, many of the recommendations are already in place, being worked upon or planned to be introduced.  The report to the Standards Committee summarises the various recommendations and the current position of North Somerset.

 

The first two recommendations are that:

 

 

 

The general Government advice is that Councillors should be involved in discussions with developers, constituents and others about planning cases provided they observe the advice set out in “Positive Engagement a Guide for Councillors”.  This advice was developed by a number of organisations that have a shared interest in maximising the effectiveness of councillor involvement in planning such as the LGA, Standards Board for England and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

 

The advice encourages Councillors to participate in discussions at the pre-application stage but to refrain from further engagement once an application is submitted.  Means of involvement at pre-application stage include the use of public forums and interim committee reports.  North Somerset does not have a local code of good practice for Councillors and officers dealing with planning matters which adopts the national advice.  It is recommended that one be drafted.

 

SPED has considered the role of Councillors in the preparation of S106 Agreements.  In their guidance “Constructive Talk” the same organisations point out how the negotiation of S106 agreements is often the cause of delay in major applications and how the collective demands of different council departments can exceed the capacity of the development to contribute.  It indicates that “well organised” authorities have formulae for calculating contributions to different services and standard templates and model agreements that can be tabled for discussion and examination by developers. The appointment of an officer with specific responsibility and a recognized corporate role to produce and maintain such arrangements is recommended.

 

The DCLG’s “Planning Obligations: Practice Guidance” gives detailed best practice advice on the preparation and use of S106 agreements.  It includes specific advice about the importance and role of community involvement.  In particular, it indicates that involving the community in planning obligations policy and practice should lead to outcomes that better reflect the views and aspirations of the community and improve decisions by drawing in local knowledge and perspectives.  This clearly supports the Panel’s approach to greater Councillor involvement in the preparation of S106 agreements.

 

 

4.                Consultation

 

None at this stage.

 

5.                Financial Implications

 

Preparation of, and training in, a local code would incur a cost.

 

6.                RISK MANAGEMENT

 

Clear processes and procedures reduce the risk of legal challenge and Ombudsman complaint.

 

7.                Equality Implications

 

None at this stage

 

8.                Corporate Implications

 

This is an issue which impacts on all members of the Council and other parts of the organisation involved in the planning process.

 

9.                Options considered

 

Not applicable

 

Author

 

Richard Kent              Head of Development Control         richard.kent@n-somerset.gov.uk

 

Background Papers

“Probity in Planning (Update)”  LGA 2002

“Member engagement in planning matters”  LGA

“Positive engagement a guide for planning councillors”  LGA et al

“Councillor Involvement in Planning Decisions” DCLG January  2007

“Guidance on Planning Propriety Issues”   DCLG October 2008

“Constructive Talk – investing in pre-application discussions”  PAS, DCLG et al 2008

“Planning Obligations: Practice Guidance” DCLG 2006