Cross posted from Love Perry Vale with John Paschoud’s permission:
We had a private meeting of the Council’s Planning committee Chairs tonight, with Cllr Heidi Alexander (who has Planning amongst her Cabinet portfolio), John Miller (the chief Planning officer) and the Planning officers who normally give us advice at committee meetings.
The issue is that some meetings do seem to be lasting a long time, whilst others have very few or very quick cases to deal with. I still think I hold both of the – unofficial – Lewisham records, for conducting the longest (until way after the pubs closed, at 11pm then) and the shortest (about 7 minutes, I think) Planning meetings.
We considered delegating more decisions (those that could be made on purely technical grounds) to officers – but they already deal with about 94% of the workload! – so we’re not going to do that. I think this is one reason why some people have the (definitely false) impression that “the Council is in cahoots with developers, because they pass nearly all the planning applications they get”. That’s because you don’t see most of the ones that get refused – they never see the light of day at a public meeting! I suggested (not completely seriously) that we could publish a sort-of rogues gallery of the proposals to build really outrageous things that have been refused permission… but that would probably just attract lawyers!
The Council is supposed to “work in partnership” with developers, and actually our officers are quite good at negotiating with them to produce proposals that are generally acceptable, so that’s another reason why more that emerge as formal applications are approved, than are refused. (Correspondingly, the Council involves amenity societies quite extensively in the process of drafting new policies on which decisions are based.)
In the end we’ve decided to improve the training for councillors who’re members of Planning committees, so they don’t spend (so much) time discussing “non-planning issues” (which can’t be reasons to refuse an application). And to try changing the way each case is heard so that we hear the officer’s impartial advice first, and then the contributions from applicant and objectors. We’ll see if that gets us all home any earlier…
John has kindly given me permission to do this with other posts of his, so you may see more of his thoughts here in future.