What kind of applications does it decide?
There is a protocol which sets out which applications the committee will deal with and which decisions are entrusted to officers. This is called the scheme of delegation.
Applications which come before the committee most regularly are those:
- Where there is a parish or town council objection
- When a councillor has made a request for an application to be referred to the committee
- Where there is an objection from a statutory consultee
- Where there is significant public interest, or
- If to approve the application means making a departure from the council's planning policy
How does the committee get all the information it needs?
Every application to be decided by the committee is the subject of a written report by a planning officer. The report has to be published, along with the agenda, at least five clear days before the meeting, and is publicly available from that time. You can get copies from the development control team or democratic services at Civic Centre.
The report contains a description of the application and the location of the site, sets out the relevant policies, replies to consultation and publicity as well as the local view from the parish council, an assessment of the plans made by a planning officer and a recommendation on the course of action the committee is advised to take.
Conduct of the meeting
Like most formal meetings, there are a few preliminaries before applications are decided. The chairman will make a few opening remarks to explain some of the features of the committee - particularly public speaking (see below).
The chairman will also ask for apologies for absence, whether or not any councillor is being represented by a substitute and declarations of interest or of "lobbying" of members and will seek approval of the minutes from the previous meeting.
To assist the chairman with the business there will be a senior planning officer, a solicitor and the Democratic Services officer.
Routinely the chairman will announce each application in turn, ask the planning officer to present the report and recommendation, including any updates since it was written, and then invite the committee to debate the application.
Members of the public, whether applicants or objectors, are able to speak at committee meetings. To ensure fairness certain procedures have to be observed. Anyone wishing to speak must give at least 48 hours notice. When this occurs, the other party is offered the same opportunity in the interests of fairness. Except for major applications only one speaker is allowed from each side, and there is a maximum time of five minutes per speaker.
On major applications (as defined in the General Development Procedure Order 1995) up to five members of the public may speak in support of the application and up to five members of the public may speak objecting to the application. If there are more members of the public wishing to object to the application than to support it, or vice versa, the chair may at his discretion adjust the period allowed for the side with the lesser number of speakers in the interests of fairness.
Speakers are not allowed to introduce new material - e.g. photographs or plans - which have not already been submitted to the council through the proper channels, otherwise they would not be available for all parties to consider. Speakers will be asked to arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the start of the meeting and make themselves known to the officer from Democratic Services.
Roles of officers and members
Officers are present to advise the committee on the planning merits of the proposals and the legal and procedural rules which apply. But the decisions are taken by the councillors - they are not bound to accept the officers' advice or recommendations.
Recommendations are based on national and local planning policies and standards in force and the planning officer's own professional judgement. Some decisions are finely balanced and almost all of the applications dealt with by the committee will be contentious in some way. It is the councillors' job to decide which arguments should prevail.
Good practice guide for councillors and officers
A published good practice guide helps councillors and officers involved in handling applications follow good practice and ensure appropriate levels of probity are observed. Some of the matters covered are declarations of interest and lobbying of councillors, meetings, site visits and applications by members or officers of the council.
Exempt and confidential business
Nearly all of the planning committee's business is conducted in public. Occasionally it is necessary to ensure confidentiality, for example when discussing a potential prosecution for unauthorised development or considering an applicant's personal or financial circumstances. When this happens the formal minute of the meeting will record the case and the outcome.
Councillors may decide to inspect a site themselves before making a decision. This enables them to gain first hand knowledge of the site and the surrounding area and to assess concerns which may have been expressed in response to an application. There is no discussion of the merits of a plan during the site visit. Applicants will be advised of the arrangements, but neither they nor any objectors will be allowed to address members at the site visit.
Making the decision
Applications are decided by a majority of votes, or if the voting is equal, on the casting vote of the chair. Permission may be granted, with or without conditions, or refused. When attaching conditions or refusing an application, reasons have to be stated. If these are not included in the officer's report (if the decision is at variance with the recommendation) they will be stated at the meeting before the decision.
A public record of the decisions taken is available in the form of a formal minute, normally within a week of the meeting.
For details of forthcoming planning committee meetings and venues, or details of the Code of Practice, please contact Democratic Services on (01724) 296236 or the Development Control team at Civic Centre, Scunthorpe (01724) 297420.