Under the new procedures delegating decisions to officers, the 15th July Planning Committee was cancelled for lack of business and the 12th August Planning Meeting had just two items on the agenda.
Solihull Ratepayers Association regards this cancellation, followed by the truncated agenda on 12th August, as a symptom of a dangerous transfer of powers away from elected members and seriously damaging to the open, transparent and democratic accountability of the planning process in Solihull.
No other planning authority in the region is taking such an undemocratic approach to its planning procedures and the search for efficiency should not overrule the need for accountability.
Following the change in procedures introduced last year, only two planning applications will have been referred to elected councillors’ scrutiny between 17th June and 9th September. Committee meetings have been reduced from a 3 weekly to a 4 weekly cycle
SRA’s secretary sent a statement detailing these concerns to Cllr David Bell the Chairman of Solihull Planning Committee. Some points raised:
- The system of delegating almost the entirety of planning applications effectively removes the important transparency and public accountability from the planning process in Solihull – planning decisions are effectively being taken behind closed doors and it is surprising that members have not challenged this new approach.
- There are no reports or any analysis of public representations now available and members have lost the opportunity to oversee the process in which officers recommend but members decide; this frequently resulted in changes to conditions and improvements that are now opportunities lost.
- This follows the review of procedures last year. At the time members concerns were that this would lead to very lengthy meetings but were assured that wouldn’t be the case.
- Given that the local plan and major decisions on planning policy have been overturned by the courts, we see the case for closer public scrutiny at local level as increasing and certainly not diminishing on anything like this scale.
- Professional representatives also indicate concern they no longer have access to members and I am being advised privately that councillor requests for items to be referred to committee under standing orders are being over-ruled.
SRA does not believe it was the intention of the elected members, when they reviewed the procedures, to transfer the decision making almost entirely to officers. Proper public accountability to the planning process should be reinstated.