I object to new planning system

PUBLISHED: 13:23 18 December 2008 | UPDATED: 10:12 10 June 2010

The editor of the Journal kindly published a letter from me a few weeks ago in which I drew attention to an experimental system being trialled by East Devon District Council (EDDC) whereby planning applications would no longer be notified in this newspaper

The editor of the Journal kindly published a letter from me a few weeks ago in which I drew attention to an experimental system being trialled by East Devon District Council (EDDC) whereby planning applications would no longer be notified in this newspaper and by neighbour letter but solely via the website and a nearby lamp post.

I sent a copy of my letter to Sara Randall Johnson, EDDC's leader and received a response confirming that Exmouth was not being treated differently from other parts of East Devon, which was reassuring, although she did not accept my suggestion to reply via the Journal on the other issues raised. Subsequently she has advised me of the following:

"It is not intended to carry out a public consultation exercise on the new administrative system we are experimenting with at present. The proof of the pudding will be in whether the customer (the applicant) is satisfied with the service and whether the performance times improve."

Note that EDDC's "proof of the pudding" is whether the customer, who in most cases will be an agent ie: a builder or property developer, is satisfied and will not reflect whether householders' interests are protected. I would in any case find this shocking that the interests of ordinary Council Tax payers are being subverted; that EDDC should be expending so much time at present campaigning for its own future on the basis that it is good for local democracy, it is breathtaking so.

Reassuringly, some of our elected representatives share these concerns. I have found the following extract from a meeting of the corporate overview committee held on October 23, which may interest readers.

"The chairman agreed to an urgent item being considered to allow members to discuss the recent change to a new planning procedure as a result of the Vanguard process [the name for the new system for notifications and approvals].

"Councillor Andrew Dinnis, design champion made a statement to the committee on this issue. He reported on the growing concerns amongst members of the change to procedure. Now, if a ward member disagrees with a planning officer's recommendation, the application was no longer automatically referred to the development control committee for determination.

"Members were concerned that this change in procedure undermined the fundamental democratic process. In rural areas, planning was the main issue constituents contacted their ward members about. If ward members no longer had their right to refer planning applications to committee, members believed this would further erode an ordinary councillor's reason for being a councillor as this was an important part of a ward member's role.

"The chief executive [of EDDC] ... would welcome members reporting to him examples of applications that should have gone to Committee and did not.

"Recommended that the executive board revisit this issue and revert to the previous system where ward councillors had the opportunity to ask for specific applications to be determined by the development control committee."

This shows that councillors are themselves seriously concerned at the erosion of democratic accountability as a consequence of the new system. It is clearly not just about advertising applications, it is cutting out the role of the elected representative as many applications normally dealt with by the elected members of EDDC's planning committee will now be dealt with by planning officers under delegated powers. Councillors, and the people they represent, seem to be regarded by EDDC as a nuisance, holding up the routine approval of applications by developers. Adoption of this fundamentally new system is still not notified on EDDC's website, even as the trial period comes to a close.

I would urge anyone who shares these concerns to write to the leader of EDDC and your local councillor objecting to Vanguard's introduction and demand the reinstatement of the previous system where ward councillors could refer specific applications to the development control committee. Various EDDC committees will be reviewing the Vanguard system from mid-January 2009 and the full council will take a final overview of the process and decide on the details of the new Delegation Scheme in May 09.

As a resident and Council Tax payer, I try to take an interest in local affairs although I should declare an interest here. An application by my neighbour has been objected to by eight residents, a councillor, the town council and might be inconsistent with the Avenues Design Statement, yet could still be approved under delegated powers under the new Vanguard process without any review by elected representatives. I imagine this will not be an isolated instance. Unless the Vanguard system is amended, East Devon residents may find that most applications are approved without them even being aware, without scrutiny by elected representatives and regardless of the number of local objections. Although, as the minutes say, it could be reported to the chief executive as an example of an application that should have gone to committee but did not - some comfort to anyone who belatedly discovers an unwanted development next door!

David Keep,

51B Salterton Road,

Exmouth.


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