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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 13/03/2007
Review of the Development Management Committees and the Role of Members in Planning



APPENDIX J
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

ENVIRONMENT AND LEISURE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
13TH MARCH 2007

Title:
REVIEW OF THE DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEES
AND THE ROLE OF MEMBERS IN PLANNING
[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

Council requested that a review of the new Committee system be carried out in January 2007 in order that any further refinements could be made at the beginning of the next administrative year. This report provides a framework for the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee to reflect on merits of the new system and the wider role of Members in the planning process. The Government has recently published a research paper considering the role of Members in the Planning process and it is useful to test the Council’s current position in relation to the conclusions and recommendations of that research. Any recommendations for further changes will be made to the Executive.

E-Government implications:

There are direct e-government implications through the increased use of the Council’s web site to inform Members about planning matters.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no direct legal implications arising from this report.

With fewer Committees to service Planning Officers have additional time to spend on other work equivalent to 15 man-hours per month and Committee Services made manpower savings of 0.2 FTE.

The use of the Internet to disseminate information has reduced printing costs by approximately 1,500 per annum.

Introduction

1. Council asked for a review of the new Committee system to be carried out in January 2007 in order that any further refinements could be made at the beginning of the next Council year. This report provides a framework for the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee to reflect on merits of the new system and the wider role of Members in the planning process. The Government has recently published a research paper considering the role of Members in the Planning process and it is useful to test the Council’s current position in relation to the conclusions and recommendations of that research. This document is attached at Annexe 1 to this report and it is open for the Committee to consider any further recommendations to the Executive arising from the “Councillor Involvement in Planning Decisions” report. Waverley was one of the Councils selected to participate in the research, primarily because of its innovation in pre-application discussions and Member Involvement through Development Control Consultative Forums that are considered to be a best practice model.

2. It is worth noting that the current Development Management Committee system arose from a review following severe criticisms by the Best Value Audit Inspectors on two separate inspections. In 2001, the Council committed to review the Area Committee structure in 2004 as part of the Best Value Improvement Plan. This work started in 2004 and progressed through a number of Modernising Planning Special Interest Group meetings and this Committee. The adopted structure was founded on Members’ own suggestions for change and on experience from other authorities. It is also clear from the Councillor Involvement in Planning Decisions Report that other authorities were on a similar journey in abandoning Area Committee systems in favour of a borough-wide Committee or Committees. It is noted that the report recommends replacing Area Committees with borough-wide Committees (page 45 of Annexe 1 refers)

3. This report follows broadly the structure of the reports presented to the Executive and Council in October 2005. These headings are:

Objectives of the review
The Committee Business
The Membership of the Committees
The size of the Committee agenda and time keeping
Membership of Committees
The delegated powers of the Committees
Officer delegated powers
Public Speaking, including Ward Member roles
Officer presentations
Site Visit arrangements
Reporting of Information and progress
Impacts on speed of decision making
Site visits
Protocols.

Objectives of the Review

4. The objectives for moving from the Area Committee arrangements were agreed as being:

1. To reduce the delay in decision making through deferrals or referrals to The Development Control Committee.
2. To create a decision making cycle to ensure applications could be reported to a Committee within target times with the aim of hitting or exceeding the BVPI determination of targets.
3. To enhance the quality of the debates and decision making by balancing local perspectives against Borough wide perspectives.
4. To retain an input from local members, local people and the Parish Councils to the decision making process.

5. Officers’ observations and, based on feedback from Members and applicants, are that the new system is working well against the four objectives.

6. Two objectives were concerned with speeding up the decision-making processes to address criticisms from the Audit Commission. Since the new Development Management Committees were established only 10 applications have been deferred. This represents only 4% of applications determined by Development Management Committees compared to 47% of applications that were deferred for site visits or referred to the Development Control Committee under the previous system.

7. In terms of meeting government targets, the new Development Management Committees have contributed significantly to meeting and exceeding BVPI109a targets for Major applications. Table 1 demonstrates that under the Area Committee system only 32% of Major applications were determined within 13 weeks whilst under the Development Management Committees this has risen to 75.8%. Since the total number of Major Applications determined are approximately 80 per year then this contribution to the Major Application determination target is significant. The overall performance in the calendar years 2005 and 2006 for BVPI 109a was 55% and 81% respectively. Whilst the Development Management Committees have not had the same impact on BVPI targets for Minor and Other applications, the table does demonstrate nevertheless a significant increase in the speed of decisions with fewer applications taking more than 13 weeks to determine.

Table 1 Comparison of time taken by Area Committees to determine applications during 2005 and Development Management Committees during 2006.

MAJOR
MINOR
OTHERS
<8 wks8-13 wks>13 wks<8 wks8-13 wks>13 wks<8 wks8-13 wks>13 wks
2005
2
6
17133560322935
2006
1
21
7155730184315

8. There is evidence that suggests that decisions are more robust, as follows:-

Member decisions overturning officer recommendations have been based on finely balanced planning arguments and, to date, no such decision has been difficult to defend at appeal.
Member overturns are not significant and appear to accord with the national research on Member decisions (See Chapter 6 of Annexe 1).
There was only one complaint in the recent customer survey relating to a Member decision contrary to an officer recommendation and no complaints received about the new Development Management Committee system.
Anecdotal evidence from agents and applicants commenting to officers about the new system suggest that they consider it to “offer more certainty” and “is less parochial”.
The judicial review into the Codling Cottage decision found the decision processes to be sound.

9. The fourth objective was to retain an input from local members, local people and the Parish Councils to the decision making process. This has been achieved by

Changes to the delegation scheme making a Parish Council and Member request for an application to be referred to Committee automatic within 21 days of the notification.
Changes to the constitution permitting ward members not on the committee to talk to an application for 4 minutes before the debate and allowing an opportunity to speak later in the debate to clarify any matters.
Public speaking on applications where 5 or more letters of objection or 5 or more letters of support have been received.

10. In relation to these aspects officers would comment that the amended delegation scheme that refers delegated applications to Committee appears to working well and does not appear to result in the Committee business being overburdened.

11. The ability for Ward Members to address the Committee has been utilised and this has facilitated the advocacy role or local champion role representing local community interests. This has helped on occasion avoid the conflict between the representative role of Councillors and their “Quasi-judicial” role in determining planning applications. The Committee may wish to consider these tensions further in reflecting on the membership of the Development Management Committees. One particular aspect that the Committee might wish to consider is whether the Ward Member’s opportunity might be limited to an opening address before the debate or to speak later in the debate, but not both. This issue is explored at 5.2.4, page 37 of Annexe 1.

12. In relation to public speaking this generally receives positive feedback as a process, irrespective of the decision. Members initially considered making all applications reported to Committee subject to public speaking but because of concerns about the impact of this on the volume of Committee business, agreed to the 5 letters of objection or support triggers. In the light of experience it is considered that the scheme works well and officers would not recommend broadening the public speaking scheme unless accompanied by consequential changes to the start time of the meeting.

13. Once the public speaking items have been discussed the speed of considering the remainder of the agenda increases. Given the current length of the meetings it is not suggested that public speaking should be extended to all applications. If Members wished to pursue this then other fundamental changes would need to be considered e.g. increasing the frequency of the meetings.

14. Some Members have expressed concern about non-ward Members being able to speak on any item. This is part of the general rights of all members to attend and speak at any formal Waverley meeting. This extends the length of the meeting and causes some disquiet to the ward Member in whose area the application is located. Should this right to speak in Development Management Committees be limited to Ward Members only in which the application is located?

15. In terms of the fourth objective, officers consider that it has been met. Nevertheless there has remained a concern about this aspect as voiced by Ewhurst Parish Council at the Towns and Parishes meeting on 5th March 2007. However, it was noted that this concern was not supported by the majority of Town and Parish Councils which believed the new arrangements were working well. The argument would suggest that a different decision might have been reached if determined by local members in an Area Committee and in turn suggests each Area Committee faced with the same issue might have come to a different conclusion. However, it was for this reason the Audit Commission was critical of the Area Committee system, as planning decisions should be based on planning policy and material considerations and not local opinion. In reflecting upon decisions made by the Development Management Committees it is difficult to identify a decision that might have been determined differently if properly considered by an Area Committee. Indeed the Development Management Committees allow greater opportunity for Members to represent local community interests and being seen to do this without prejudicing the planning decision.

16. The Joint Planning Management Committee has met only once to consider the Cranleigh Brick and Tile planning application. However, feedback about that decision process was good from all sides and this included the Development Control Forums, a technical briefing for Members and the meeting itself that resolved to refuse planning permission.

17. In overall terms it is considered that the objectives of the Development Management Committees have been met.


Committee Business

18. Applications are reported to a Development Management Committee when they are ready to be reported. Table 2 illustrates the Committee business for 2006. Committee A has dealt with an average of 9.6 applications per meeting and Committee B, 12.4 applications. Committee A has had the largest agenda with 20 applications and Committee B the largest incidence of public speaking items at 10. There are no identifiable patterns to the items forming an agenda and do indeed appear to reflect the vagaries of the application submissions.

19. The agenda appear to be settling down and are generally below the predicted 15 items per Committee. No doubt the extension to the delegated powers has assisted in this.

20. Committees are now usually finishing before 10.00 p.m. since the meeting time was brought forward to 6.30 pm.

21. Do Members remain comfortable with the volume of business? If not, are there any suggestions to change the volume of the business or manage it in a different way?

TABLE 2 - DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEES A AND B
Public Speaking Items = Part A
Non-public Speaking Items = Part B

Committee
Date
Part APart B
A4 Jan 0623
B25 Jan 06510
A15 Feb 0649
B8 Mar 0666
A29 Mar 0644
B19 Apr 0657
A3 May 06311
B24 May 0674
A14 June 06812
B5 Jul 0648
A26 Jul 0647
B16 Aug 0674
A6 Sep 0635
B27 Sep 0657
A18 Oct 0664
B8 Nov 06106
A29 Nov 0635
B20 Dec 0628
A10 Jan 0705
B31 Jan 0767
A21 Feb 0740
Total98132
Dev Man A (11 meetings) 41 65
Dev Man B (10 meetings) 57 67

Membership of the Committees

22. There was considerable disquiet about the proposed size of each of the Committees when they were first formed.

23. There have only been two meetings of the Joint Planning Management Committee when 24 Members attended to discuss LDF and Government Consultation documents and 26/28 members to consider the Cranleigh Brick and Tile application (dealt with at 2 meetings held a week apart).

24. Attendance at the Development Management Committees is set out in Tables 3 and 4 below:-

Table 3 DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT A

DATEATTENDEES
%
13.12.05
19
86%
04.01.06
18
82%
15.02.06
15
68%
29.03.06
8
36%
03.05.06
17
77%
14.06.06
12
55%
26.07.06
15
68%
06.09.06
15
68%
18.10.06
19
86%
29.11.06
12
55%
10.01.07
18
82%
21.02.07
14
64%
Average attendance = 69%

Table 4 DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT B

DATEATTENDEES
%
25.01.06
16
73%
08.03.06
19
86%
19.04.06
16
73%
24.05.06
14
64%
05.07.06
10
45%
16.08.06
14
64%
27.09.06
17
77%
08.11.06
14
64%
20.12.06
18
82%
31.01.07
18
82%

Average attendance = 71%

25. These numbers reflect the predicted size of Committees, accounting for apologies.

26. Members may wish to reflect upon the issues raised in the Councillor Involvement in Planning Decisions report, particularly in relation to the various roles of Members and the advantages and disadvantages of a large proportion of the Membership on “planning committees”. This is set out in Chapter 5 of the report. The chart on page 36 illustrates Waverley Borough Council as the Council with the highest proportion of Members on “planning committees” at 77% of the total membership, whilst the average is 44%. The research appears to point to the fact that smaller Committees can more easily take the impartial decision making role while taking into account all the relevant material considerations. (Page 37 of Annexe 1)

27. Are Members comfortable with the size of the Committees? If not what might be recommended to the Executive?

Delegated Powers

28. The main changes to delegated powers were;

(a) The Joint Planning Management Committee now has full-delegated powers to act on behalf of the Council in relation to the determination of planning and other applications. There are no rights to refer these planning determinations to Council. The Involvement of Members in Planning Decisions report supports the Council’s decision not to refer planning matters to Full Council. (Page 45) (b) In the case of Development Management Committee A or B, seven members present at the meeting may require that a decision shall operate as a recommendation to the parent Committee. The recommendation will then be submitted to the next ordinary meeting of the parent Committee. To date, this mechanism has not been used.

(c) Development Management Committees can now deal with all matters formally dealt with by the Development Control Committee e.g. Departures, discharge of legal agreements.

(d) Officers can no longer refer decisions up if that decision could be argued to be unsound.

29. The role of the Joint Planning Management Committee, distinct from the Development Management Committees, would be to consider applications or issues referred to it for the following reasons:-

1. Making decisions on the administrative and procedural matters affecting the processing of applications. e.g. report formats, information specifications etc.

2. Determining planning applications for major schemes which are of strategic importance to the Council. E.g. East Street, Cranleigh Brick and Tile.

30. The delegated powers appear to be working in so far as departure applications and legal agreements are being dealt with quickly.

Officer Delegated Powers

31. Officer delegated powers changed to include the approval of minor amendments to permitted schemes and thus potentially avoiding applications taking up committee business time for minor issues. Changes were also made enabling the Parish Council and Ward Member to refer an application to Committee automatically.

32. This clearly increases the Committees’ business but does provide that important input from the local Parish Council and Ward Member into the process.

33. With the resignation of a Member in a single member ward, the Council may need to consider a contingency arrangement for Parishes to raise issues, say through the adjoining ward members, in order to ensure they still have a way of participating in the delegation trigger during a vacant seat.

34. Members may have thoughts on personal experiences given their unique role in this partnership?

Officer Presentations

35. Officers have improved their presentation in terms of the content and structure of the written reports and now present visual aids on all applications. Files are available 30 minutes before the meeting in the Council Chamber in case any Member wishes to examine a file in greater detail to assist their thoughts for the debate.

36. Are Members happy with the new report format?
Are Members happy with the content, style and length of presentations?
Is there anything you wish officers to stop doing, amend or start doing?

Site Visit Arrangements

37. Ten applications have been deferred for site visits and on three occasions this has involved visiting two application sites on the same day. Members had expressed concerns about the logistics of visiting a number of sites across the Borough but this does not so far appear to have been a major issue given the performance of the Committees to only visit application sites when necessary.

38. Are members happy about the site visit arrangements?

Reporting matters of information

39. Quarterly reports on enforcement matters have been warmly received by each of the Development Management Committees in line with the agreed arrangements. It is generally agreed that the reports convey much more of a positive message in terms of the work the department is doing to resolve planning problems in the Borough.

40. Some Members found difficulty in not being able to debate in full cases reported in the quarterly report. It is important that Members do have an opportunity to discuss cases in detail either with officers or at Committee. There are two difficulties associated with attempting to discuss specific cases on the quarterly report. This report is normally presented in open and therefore officers may need to be guarded in any response to protect the Council’s long term position and, secondly, officers at the Committee may not necessarily have all of the detailed information on a particular case to properly advise Members. It is apparent that there is a need to clarify how this can be done to ensure that all Members are confident that there are mechanisms for this to happen. In practice members are being encouraged to talk to officers before the meeting since more information can be disclosed in this way compared to the formal Committee arena. If a Member is not satisfied about progress or the way officers are approaching a case, then a report on that case could be triggered to Committee where that matter can be debated in exempt. This system appears to be working well with Members liaising with the enforcement team and no requests having been made to report formally to a Development Management Committee a particular case.

41. Is ELOS happy with these arrangements?

42. In relation to other information, matters concerning delegated decisions, appeals and applications received this information is now appearing on the Council’s Website. The information has been organised so that Members can find information for their particular ward or by Parish.

43. Are Members finding that this information is meeting your requirements? If not what is missing or what can be clarified. Do members find it easy to access?

Other matters

44. Members have a key role in delivering planning decisions. The report at Annexe 1 explores some key areas for Members in the planning process. The report highlights these areas for Member consideration.

Early Member Involvement

45. Waverley appears to be at the leading edge of member pre-application involvement through the Development Control Consultative Forums. However, there appears to be a need to update the planning code of conduct to clarify advice in terms of members visiting sites during pre-application processes and during the consideration of a live application. In particular, it is not wise for Members to visit sites during this process if they are potentially a decision-maker on the application as it may prejudice their position in voting on such an application. Equally, an accompanied site visit with an officer may not wholly protect a Member from an allegation of bias. Given current high workloads it is also not possible to service Member requests for site visits without impacting upon the performance of the service.

46. Is ELOS agreed that the planning code of conduct should be clarified in this respect?

Links between Policy and Decision-Making

47. The report at Annexe 1 draws an interesting conclusion about the ownership of policies by decision-makers. The concern is that in many authorities the Development Control function is divorced from the policy creation function. It is not considered that this is not a current issue for Members as many were involved in the preparation of the current local plan. However, with the prospect of an election in May and thereafter a different approach to policy formulation, this may well become an issue for Members in the new Council.

Member Skills and Knowledge

48. The research paper highlights the importance of members’ skills and knowledge in the planning process. Officers are already preparing for Member training and induction following the elections in May and the Surrey Planning Officer Association is developing a Surrey Member Training and Development Programme. ELOS may however wish to comment upon the provision of planning training generally for member or highlight particular aspects that would be valuable to new or existing members.

49. It is suggested that the Executive might wish to ask the Modernising Planning and the Member Development SIGs to carry out further work on this area.

50. This report does not seek to address every issue in Annexe1 but it is open for the Committee to consider whether there are any other issues that arise from it that may need further attention.


Recommendation

It is recommended that the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee pass on its views and comments on the questions highlighted in the report to the Executive for consideration.

Background Papers (DoPD)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

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


Comms/o&s3/2006-07/061