The Executive Member for Planning and Growth submitted a report which provided Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee with the opportunity to consider and provide observations on the proposal to set up Community Forums for Strategic Sites across the district and the proposal to establish a Development Management Forum.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth explained that the establishment of regular Community Forums for large strategic sites for developers, residents, community groups, elected Members and Officers would allow all groups to engage and raise issues of concern over the lifetime of a development and this would enhance the quality of community life and communication. Additionally, the development of a Development Management Forum for planning applications (for 50 or more homes) arranged prior to a planning decision would enable residents to share their concerns in an in an open and transparent way.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth explained how the forums and their respective remits would operate.
Members debated the proposal at length commenting as follows:
terms of the Community Forums for strategic sites, the opportunity
to steer and influence a development was a positive step
· in relation to Development Management forums, concerns were raised from the viewpoint of resources;
· that there was already a Statement of Community involvement and that a Community Forum was a seen as a duplication of effort. The Head of Planning and Building Control provided explained that the SCI was being phased out as a result of the Government’s planning reforms and replacing it with an engagement strategy for use in the preparation of the District Plan;
· that there would be considerable resources from the viewpoint of planning Officers and administrative staff needed to set up Community Forums and of the impact this would have on the planning service including from an enforcement issue;
· of concerns not just on East Herts Officers but other Councils such as Hertfordshire County Council Officers.
Examples of good practise were provided in relation to Bishop’s Stortford South where a forum had been established, versus Bishop’s Stortford North where one had not. In terms of the latter example, the Executive Member for Planning and Growth referred to the amount of Officer and Councillor time that had been spent on Bishop’s Stortford North complaints, Freedom of Information Requests etc and the negative impact this had on Officers and Members’ time.
The Head of Planning and Building Control explained that the council had a Stewardship Planning Officer and there was capacity to use that Officer and work with case officers and the enforcement team in supporting the forums.
that the establishment of Development Management Forums might deter
some developers from putting forward speculative
· sought assurances that all stakeholders would be included in the forum process as some neighbourhood planning groups had been aggrieved in the past.
Members acknowledged that the Community Forum sought to manage the lifespan of a project. A concern was expressed with regard to the Development Management Forum and how this could impact when there was a Masterplan adding that if a Masterplan was done properly at the time, it should allow everyone the chance to comment and question and so shape development positively.
The Head of Planning and Building Control explained that Masterplans usually worked well, but that there were occasions when speculative planning applications were submitted for areas where Masterplans were in place. She said these areas could benefit from the additional support from a Development Management Forum with the applicant being invited to listen to residents’ concerns.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth explained that Community Forums would be set up for strategic sites once consents had gone through. The Development Management Forum would provide a more interactive forum for residents to feedback and also for developers to feedback their concerns.
The Head of Planning and Building Control explained that Cambridge Council had established such forums and that they had worked well over the last 20 years. The forums would allow residents to come forward and have their issues addressed early on in the process for discussions.
The frequency of the forums was debated.
The Chairman queried how the proposal would be resourced. The Head of Planning and Building Control explained the capacity in planning services.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth responded to several Members separate queries.
In response to a query from the Chairman on how success could be assessed, the Executive Member for Planning and Growth said, by a reduction in the level of complaints, abusive emails and a reduction in the level of abuse generally and in abuse aimed at planning staff. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth assured Members that she would submit their comments to the Executive.
With Members’ support, the Chairman queried whether this issue could be reviewed in two years’ time to allow the collation of meaningful data. The Head of Legal and Democratic Services confirmed that this could be reviewed if Members wished. This was supported.
Councillor Nicholls proposed and Councillor Clements seconded, a motion that Members’ comments be forwarded to the Executive and that the issue be reviewed in two years’ to allow the collation of meaningful data.
After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that Members’ comments be forwarded to the Executive and that the issue be reviewed in two years’ to allow the collation of meaningful data.
(Councillors E Buckmaster and McAndrew abstained from voted).