Are councillors at risk of losing their decision-making powers from planning?

By Ruby Burdett, Consultant

The report put forward last week by the free market think tank ‘Policy Exchange’ was anything but tedious. Titled ‘Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century’ the report cannot be accused of lacking imagination, but based on its revolutionary character, the likelihood of it being taken forward is minimal.

In short, the report promotes a total split from the current planning system process, recommending radical modifications to bring the system into modernity. It is arguable that one suggestion, from a rather exhaustive list of proposed changes, is unduly contentious. The report notions to strip councillors of their role in planning applications, seeing that once the local plan is in place, the process will become solely administrative and free from politics.

However, the chances of these propositions carrying any weight are slim. The link that councillors provide between the community and the council are crucial in representing citizenry voices. Considering that planning decisions will affect residents for years to come, it is arguably critical to ensure that the priorities of the public are represented by councillors. To strip councillors of the powers they were elected to execute by the local community, could be considered more than controversial, and perhaps undemocratic.

Planning also often comes with strong emotional ties, which may be felt by campaigners or resistors to new developments. This is where councillors play a key role in mitigating and representing residents, and where so-called millennials yearn to replace the human touch with a computed administrative process. It is easy to conclude that the prospect of the public favouring a report which will surrender their representative voice in local planning is more than unlikely, and almost comparable to the idea of turkeys voting for Christmas.

On the off chance that these suggestions reach the governments agenda, it is unlikely that the idea to sidestep councillors will amount to any real significance. Roger Hepher, director at HGH planning consultancy predicts that the report would receive a high level of negativity, sparking ‘howls of protest’. No obvious motive from the ministers nor the electorate can be determined to cut out councillors from planning decision-making. On the basis that widespread support for this masterplan is improbable it could be safe to assume the power of councillors will remain intact.