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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 05/12/2006
East Street Planning and Listed Building Consent Appplications - A Review of the Decision-Making Process



APPENDIX S.1
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE - 5TH DECEMBER 2006

Title:
EAST STREET PLANNING AND LISTED BUILDING CONSENT APPLICATIONS -
A REVIEW OF THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

The number of public responses to the East Street planning and Listed Building Consent applications is so significant that it is appropriate to review the decision making process and logistics in the knowledge that the Council’s normal processes are not designed to deal with such circumstances. The Executive is, therefore, asked to review issues such as the venue for meetings of the Joint Development Management Committee and the public speaking arrangements so that this can be explicitly communicated to manage public expectations and respond reasonably to the situation.

Environmental implications:

This report has no direct environmental implications.

Social/community implications:

This report has no direct social/community implications.

E-Government implications:

E-government will play a significant role in communicating the administration and decision process to be adopted, including the use of the web cam to broadcast the debate on the applications.

Resource and legal implications:

There may be short-term staff and financial issues within the planning department to manage the high number of responses from the public.

The legal implications are set out in the body of the report.

Introduction

1. Each of the East Street Applications has generated over 3,000 responses from the public. This has resulted in a backlog of responses waiting to be put onto the web site and recorded on the planning system. Many of the letters refer to all three applications and, to some degree, there is some duplication and many letters are identical but with separate signatures. The sheer number of representations raises a number of logistical issues for our current systems and processes.

2. The view of officers is that in these unusual circumstances it would be appropriate to consider what might be done reasonably and proportionately to manage the application and decision making process. It is also wise for such consideration to be made in a transparent way and, before any pre-work commences with regard to any Joint Development Management Committee. This will help to manage public expectation at the decision making stage and respond reasonably to the situation.

3. The level of response raises the following questions;

1. Should the Council’s normal public speaking arrangements be followed?
2. If not what should be put in its place?
3. How would speakers be selected?
4. How long would speakers be given to talk?
5. Should the Meeting be held in the Council Chamber as normal?
6. If not where else could it be held and what other arrangements could be used e.g. web-casting?
7. What provisions can be made to ensure that members involved in the decision have regard to all of the relevant information, including representations.

Public Speaking

4. Members will be aware that the planning process is, essentially, an administrative one where the decision maker considers development proposals against the National and Local Planning Policies and other material considerations. It is less about public opinion but more about material planning considerations. In this context there is not any legal obligation for the Council to allow particular individuals or groups to address the decision-making committee. There should be no expectation of such an opportunity; although generally arrangements are made to allow for public speaking, it is reasonable for the Council to make exceptional arrangements in any exceptional case. The general arrangement is that Council has agreed to extend its processes to allow one supporter and one objector to address the Development Management Committees on planning issues for up to three minutes each. Given the exceptional nature of the proposals it would not be realistic to expect a speaker, if permitted, to reasonably respond on the issues being raised within three minutes.

5. The purpose of the public speaking scheme is to enable Members making the decision to have, at their disposal, the fullest information in order to inform the decision-making. Given the policy of the Council to encourage public speaking it is suggested another way needs to be found to facilitate this process. `

6. Officers suggest that it would be in the interests of the Council to stick to its normal procedures as closely as possible even though it may be necessary to vary that to manage this exceptional case.

1. That public speaking is incorporated with in the Committee process.
2. That the normal order of speakers should be followed i.e. objectors, the Town Council and then the Developer and supporters.
3. That objectors be given 20 minutes to present their views to the Committee.
4. That rather than writing in response to 9,000 letters inviting objectors to speak, Farnham Town Council be asked to assist in identifying a group of objectors who might assist and be invited to “manage” the objector’s slot. Whilst it is unlikely that one group could represent all of the views within the town, it is suggested that a group considered by Farnham Town Council as best placed out of all of the organisations to manage this speaking slot should be selected.
5. That the Town Council be invited to present its views within 20 minutes.
6. The developer is invited to make his points, within 20 minutes and before the debate takes place.
7. These arrangements are published on the web site and in the press.

The meeting venue

7. It appears likely that not all those wishing to attend the meeting will be able to be present in the Council Chamber when the applications are considered. Clearly there is great public interest in the application and by using the web cam technology people could either watch the proceedings from the comfort of their own homes or at some other venue such as the locality office in Farnham. Members are used to the Council Chamber environment and the infrastructure that enables officers to present images and documents to the Committee. These can also be made available on the web cam so that those watching remotely can also see images that are either being explained or discussed. Arrangements would need to be put in place to ensure that members of the public are aware that the meeting is being web-cast and that when the public gallery is full people are directed to other accommodation. Alternatively, it may be necessary to arrange for the meeting to be held at a larger venue. However, announcing the use of the web casting in advance of the meeting should assist in management of demand and make it possible to conduct business properly and in public.

8. If the venue remains as the Council Chamber, web-cast is available. Arrangements for another venue would deprive the public of the opportunity of seeing proceedings simultaneously on web-cast.

Sequence of Events

9. Following the experience of the Cranleigh Brick and Tile decision process it is recommended that a similar process be followed to provide Members with as full as information as possible before the debate commences.

10. It is therefore proposed that when the time comes that there ought to be three stage process.

Stage 1 - Member Site Visit

11. The first stage is to hold Member site visits for any Member who wishes to refresh their understanding of the current site and its context. At least two opportunities will be offered to Members with one being a morning event and a second being an afternoon event but before the light is lost. This will be an officer led event and controlled through an appointed Chairman for the duration of the site visit and subject to the normal rules of Committee site visits. The Chairman would be Mr A Rayner but in his absence the Vice-Chairman Mrs P Hibbert or one of the Chairman or Vice-Chairman from the Development Management Committees.

12. It is intended to produce the officer report prior to the site visits so that Members should have an opportunity to consider the broad thrust of any recommendations.

Stage 2 – Joint Development Management Committee – Technical Briefing

13. The second stage is to hold a technical briefing for Members of the Joint Development Management Committee. This will be an opportunity for officers to explain the proposal and the planning assessment. Other key consultees will be invited to provide information and clarification about their advice. This will include the Environment Agency, the Highways Authority, Natural England and English Heritage. It is suggested that the Developer’s Team be invited to answer detailed questions about the scheme.

14. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that Members understand the proposals and the concepts behind them, the planning policy position and assessment and the technical advice on various aspects of the development before the debate on the merits of the proposal begins.

Stage 3 - Joint Development Management Committee

15. The third and final stage would be to have, within 10 days of the technical briefing, a Joint Development Management Committee, which may include the public speaking arrangements as suggested above. This meeting will aim to debate and determine the applications.

Informing the Decision makers

16. The Council needs to be acting responsibly and reasonably in the handling of the application. One issue is whether the decision makers have fully grasped the representations and issues in the letters of representation. It is believed to be unreasonable to expect every Member to read every letter on the file and, therefore, Officers will provide a schedule of the letters received, summarising the main points raised. Members are reminded that they are able to inspect the files to study plans, documents or letters prior to the meeting which might help them in their considerations.

Current Timetable

17. The dialogue with statutory consultees is not complete and is not likely to be so by the end of the calendar year. In these circumstances the estimated timetable for a Joint Development Management Committee (Technical Briefing) is no earlier than 29th January 2006. This is, obviously, subject to progress and discussions with consultees.

Managing The Response to Letters and e-mails

18. Experience of public interest with other applications suggests that when officers’ reports are published there is often a second but significant flurry of e-mails and letters as a reaction to the report contents. In the circumstances described above this can be overwhelming both for officers and members. Members will be aware that any correspondence they receive directly needs to be made available to officers so that the information can be shared with all of the Members making a decision. Officers will do their best to assemble and assess late submissions but it is suggested that given the volume of representations which might be involved that the Council recognises and publicises the fact that any comments received less than 48 hours prior to the Joint Development Management Committee can not be guaranteed to be taken into account. In severe circumstances, the Director of Planning and Development may need to recruit some short-term data input assistance to ease the pressure on the remainder of the service. This may be in the order of 2,000.

19. As a consequence of the backlog of entering representations onto the Council’s IT systems, managers have decided to revise the method for sharing letters concerning the East Street applications as many of the letters are identical and explaining clearly to the public how this information could be better accessed. However, the intention is to create a web page that will inform the public of the number of representations received either objecting or supporting the proposals.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the Executive

1. endorses the public speaking arrangements for the East Street Applications, as set out above;

2. considers the appropriate venue for the Joint Development Management Committee meetings and instructs officers to investigate how full use of the web cam facilities can be made possible to enable those interested in observing proceedings to do so, and that publicity should be given to these arrangements in advance;

3. the sequence of meeting events is agreed as the basis for managing the decision process;

4. agrees that a schedule of representations containing the summary of points is the best practical way of informing Members of those issues; and

5. the Director of Planning and Development be authorised to secure additional administrative help in the event that further representations received after the publication of the officers reports necessitates that response.

Background Papers (DoPD)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 10972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298
E-mail: jaanderson@waverley.gov.uk






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