WARRINGTON Council’s planning department has been described as “unfit for purpose” by Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Cllr Ryan Bate, due to a ‘perfect storm’ of cutbacks, IT failings and a number of high-profile applications.
Cllr Bate, who represents the Grappenhall Ward on the borough council said: “Together with the substantial work around the Local Plan, the Council’s planning department has also faced an increasing number of major applications. It is trying to cope with a smaller workforce and a creaking IT system resulting from financial cutbacks.
“It is vital that Warrington gets planning right. Not just for legal reasons, but also for the long-term benefit of people and the environment. Unfortunately, the situation has resulted in the public completely losing confidence in a planning system in which they do not feel they can properly participate. Despite the hard work of the remaining planning officers, the service is simply unfit for purpose.
He added: “Whether real or perceived, the public feel that developers and landowners have far too much influence over planning. We have seen the Council choose not to submit evidence for the pending Stobarts appeal without any public explanation. In another worrying twist, it has become clear that the Council’s regeneration arm, Warrington & Co., is working closely with developers on a detailed Masterplan for the Garden Suburb concept in the Local Plan.
“I am sure there is a time and a place for these discussions, but for them to be taking place behind closed doors before the Local Plan is adopted seems premature. For this to be done by a team within the council who have strong relationships with landowners and a bias towards development, rather than by the planning policy team who consider the Local Plan from a wider perspective, does not sit right with me.”
Ryan added: “This is not a problem unique to Warrington. The National Audit Office has raised the issue of the falling numbers of planners. The Town & Country Planning Association’s Raynsord Review highlighted the difficulty in recruiting new planners and quoted that senior planners across the country are angry that they have to administer a system which leads to poor outcomes for people. Members of the Royal Town Planning Institute are also demanding improvements to the system, saying the National Planning Policy Framework has not delivered in the public interest or allowed enough public participation in planning.”
He says the Liberal Democrats would do things differently, both locally and nationally.
“There is a very obvious need for proper public participation within the planning process and for plans to have long-terms goals focused on wellbeing and sustainability rather than simply economic growth. Not only would we go back to the drawing board with Warrington’s Local Plan, we would also make the proper resourcing of the Council’s planning department and its IT systems a top priority so as to restore public confidence in the system,” he concluded.