Why Labour's plan to remove councillors' referral rights is so wrong
28/01/2015 19:52:00......Posted by Tim Pollard
Back in December, when the draft budget for 2015/16 went to the Scrutiny Committee, Conservative councillors were alarmed to see a saving for the 2016/17 year proposed, which would abolish the planning sub-committee (which deals with the smaller planning applications). It didn't take a genius to work out that the only way they could achieve this reduction in volume of applications before committee was to reduce or remove ward members' rights to refer applications they have concerns about to the committee.
At the moment if an application is objected to by more than twelve adjacent households, or a councillor 'refers' it, or if a residents' association does likewise, then officers' delegated power to decide in favour of the application is removed, meaning it must go before a committee of elected councillors. If officers wish to refuse permission, they are still able to do so without going to committee.
It is relatively rare that any extension or back garden development is objected to by twelve affected households, so these referral rights are vital in preventing our neighbourhoods becoming a developmental Wild West.
Tonight's decision by committee to refuse permission for an outbuilding in Stockham's Close is a case in point and a great example of why these referral rights are important (see here for case details).
Officers were recommending this one for approval, but the committee unanimously refused it, on the grounds of the impact it would have on the neighbours. Had I not been allowed to refer it, and then persuade the committee to back me, officers would have approved it, with no appeal against that decision allowed.
So although it might save money, I and my Conservative colleagues are implaccably opposed to the removal of these important democratic rights. Fortunately, although the idea looked set to be worked up towards inclusion in the 2016/17 budget, it is clear that many Labour back benchers have similar feelings to ours - many of them being active defenders of their residents' rights on planning issues. There are already signs that the administration may be re-considering this rash idea (which will make the third u-turn in a month), and we will keep the pressure on to ensure that they do!