Committee Report NSC

                                                                Appendix A, Item 6.1

North Somerset Council

 

REPORT TO THE Standards Committee

 

Date of Meeting: 25 November 208

 

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

 

The report is NOTED

 

1.                Summary of Report

 

Whilst there is no express local code of conduct for Councillor involvement in planning matters, Councillors have received training, information and advice on this issue based on recently published national guidance.

 

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

 

Background

 

At it meeting on 27 May 2008 the Standards Committee considered the Local Code of Corporate Governance. The need for a local code for planning was also discussed and further information sought. This report sets out the main areas of guidance available and how it has been addressed by the Council

 

Existing Guidance

 

Local Code for Planning

 

No local code for planning has been adopted. However, training was given to Councillors in May/June 2007 about the Code of Conduct and planning procedures generally.  Councillors were also sent a letter in July 2007 by a Council Solicitor explaining how to apply the Code to the consideration of matters in Area Committees.  This also addressed how Councillors who also sit on Parish Councils should approach their dual responsibilities.

 

Further training on “How to deal with planning applications” was provided on 21st January 2008. Thirty two members attended and received training in, and were given copies of, the LGA leaflet “Positive Engagement a Guide for Councillors” and the companion LGA publication “Member engagement in planning matters”.  This gives a clear set of “dos” and “don’ts” for Councillors (see below).  These guidelines stem from an earlier publication, “Probity in Planning (Update) – revised guidance note on preparing a local code of good practice for Councillors and officers dealing with planning matters” which is outline below.

 

“Probity in Planning (Update)”

 

 “Probity in Planning (Update)” was published by the LGA in 2002 and gives advice aimed at preserving the integrity of the planning system, including the conduct of councillors in administering its processes and procedures. It emphasises that the successful operation of the planning system relies on officers and members having a mutual trust and an understanding of each others roles.  It highlights that they do not only act in a way which is fair and impartial but are also clearly seen to do so.

 

Guidance is set out on registration and declaration of interests; development proposals submitted by councillors and officers; council development; lobbying of and by councillors; pre-application discussions; officer reports to committee; public speaking at committees; decisions contrary to officer recommendations and/or the development plan; committee site visits; reviews of decisions; an complaint recording and record keeping.  The Council’s current procedures follow the principles set out in the guidance.

 

“Member engagement in planning matters”

 

This guidance is endorsed in a subsequent LGA publication “Member engagement in planning matters” which gives further advice on levels of engagement and the benefits of pre-application discussions where they are part of a structured arrangement with officers.  It provides further advice on the issues arising from lobbying an provides some examples of best practice.

 

“Positive engagement a guide for planning councillors”

 

The advice in the above publications has been distilled into a simple leaflet “Positive engagement a guide for planning councillors” endorsed by the Government, the Standards Board for England, the LGA, and the Royal Town Planning Institute.  This sets out a simple list of “Dos” and don’ts” for Councillors as follows:

 

DO

 

DO NOT

 

 

 

This leaflet was given to all Councillors who attended the training in January 2008.

 

“Councillor Involvement in Planning Decisions”

 

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 recommendations are set out below together with an officer comment in italics setting out the current position in respect of North Somerset.

 

Officer comment: procedures for pre-application advice are being reviewed.

 

Officer comment: There is no local planning code of conduct at present but members have been supplied with national guidance (see above).

 

Officer comment: the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement includes some guidance on this issue.  Procedures for pre-application advice are being reviewed.

 

Officer comment: This is in operation.

 

Officer comment: This is in place

 

Officer comment: The Member – Officer Protocol seeks to address this issue.

 

Officer comment: The scheme of delegation was reviewed in June 2007 in the light of national guidelines and provides a good balance.

 

Officer comment: North Somerset operates an Area Committee structure.

 

Officer comment: the number of Area Committees is dictated by geographical factors and in North Somerset cannot be less than four.

 

Officer comment: Members have received training in good practice.

 

Officer comment: this is not standard practice due to the need to meet performance targets.  Deferrals do take place from time to time.

 

Officer comment: Officer comment: The Planning & Regulatory Committee fulfils this function.

 

Officer comment: Area Committees make decisions contrary to officer recommendation when they consider it appropriate.

.

Officer comment: The Member – Officer Protocol seeks to address this issue. 

 

Officer comment:  Briefings are held to give guidance on this.

.

Officer comment: Briefings are held to achieve this.

 

Officer comment: North Somerset operates an Area Committee structure

 

Officer comment: various activities take place to try to improve links with local communities through the Statement of Community Involvement

 

Officer comment:  the Executive Member sits on a Area Committee and attends other Committee from time to time.

 

Officer comment: Briefings and events are held to achieve this.

 

Officer comment: Briefings and events are held to achieve this

 

Officer comment: this is partly in place. 

 

Officer comment: All Councillors sit on an Area Committee and have a involvement in planning decision making.  Some planning training has taken place but extended training has resource implications

 

Officer comment: see above

 

Officer comment: see above.  Activities are varied where possible.

 

Officer comment: see above

 

 

“Guidance on Planning Propriety Issues”

 

In October 2008 DCLG published guidance on how Planning Ministers should involve themselves in planning decisions in a way which ensures no conflict arises between their public duties and their private interests.  Whilst of no direct relevance to local authority processes, the guidance demonstrates the Government’s commitment to this issue.

 

 

 

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