A bid by Lid Dem Cllrs to get Labour-controlled Warrington Borough Council to “improve planning transparency” and “restore public trust” by introducing flexibility to the 21-day rule on planning applications, has been rejected.
Saying he was “stunned” by the motion which he described as “woolly” Labour leader Cllr Russ Bowden accused the Lib Dems of “swinging the lead and playing to the public gallery.”
He also expressed disappointment at criticism of council officers, who had no right of reply, adding that the responsible director could already call in any contentious planning applications which had gone beyond 21 days.
The proposal, which was unanimously rejected by the Labour Group, was put forward in a motion at last Monday’s full Council.
Cllr Ian Marks, who put forward the motion, said, “It is the democratic right of a councillor to ask for a planning application to be brought before the planning committee for consideration providing there are good reasons. Usually planning decisions can be made by officers under delegated powers because they are not controversial. If there are neighbour objections or an upset householder, then it should go to Committee so that the case, for or against, can be put to elected councillors.
“Last July a resident submitted a planning application for a side extension. It looked fine to me and the Parish Council and there were no neighbour objections. Six months later the architect told me it was being recommended for refusal. I asked for it to go to Warrington’s planning committee but was told this was impossible because it was more than 21 days since the application was lodged last summer. The six months delay was caused by the inability of the planning department to cope with applications on a proper timescale. It is quite unacceptable that departmental failings should overrule a councillor’s democratic rights.
“Our motion asked for the Council’s Constitution to be reviewed to introduce an element of flexibility in such circumstances. We were extremely disappointed in the feeble arguments put forward by Labour politicians as to why they couldn’t do this.”
Cllr Ryan Bate who seconded the Motion added: “We need a fairer more flexible system. More care must be taken about communicating the rules to residents when they become involved in the planning process. When a letter arrives with details about an application that may affect them, nowhere does it say they need to contact a councillor within 21 days. They need time for this and it is not immediately apparent they may need call on a councillor for help. We must improve transparency and restore public trust.”
In response, Cllr Judith Guthrie (Lab) said she was “perplexed” and “confused” by the motion.
“Whoever wrote it needs to be getting their facts straight,” she added, saying it had already been agreed at a previous Development meeting to discuss any issues in more detail at a future meeting, after the May elections. She said all planning applications were available for public viewing on the council website and officers did a “sterling job.”
“I am concerned about putting something in place which is undemocratic and basically does not trust our planning colleagues or those who sit on the Development Committee.”
Cllr Joan Grimes (Lab) added: “There is already a system in place to deal with any problems via the Director of Growth who can call items in after 21 days.”
She said the planning department was already under pressure to get items through on a three-week cycle and the motion would only slow things down further, cause more delays and result in the council losing control over making decisions on some applications. She said she was “very disappointed” with the motion.