Tag Archives: council

planning committee

Understanding councillors

By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property

We have all at some point come out of a planning committee wondering what had just happened. A perfectly reasonable policy-compliant planning application had been unexpectedly refused for vague and perhaps spurious reasons, or on an issue which you were not aware of.

Although planning committees are not supposed to be political, politics can sometimes get in the way. Members consider applications on their merits, but occasionally conflicting priorities can influence decisions.

Politics never goes away

After all, councillors are politicians. They were elected to represent their wards – if they do not then they will not be elected next time. This is a key motivation and becomes more significant the closer to an election you get. In councils where elections are by thirds, the politics never goes away. Although councillors are still elected for four years, the political groups are always in election mode as there are local elections every year – even on the fourth year, the elections are for counties.

This is exacerbated where a council has a small overall majority. The controlling parties will understandably be paranoid about losing any seats and so will not take decisions which are politically risky. The opposition will be all fired-up as taking control is only an election away – they will be challenging every decision vociferously, probably out of all proportion to the issue at hand!

Similarly, councillors in marginal wards will be particularly susceptible to politics: they know that one wrong move will change that majority resulting in their, or their colleagues, being beaten at the next election. They will want to be seen to be campaigning for the community, fighting for what it wants, and sticking-up for every resident who has an injustice. This, even if it goes against their own personal views, and possibly against those of their party. Similarly, opposition candidates will be over-critical of everything.

Any proposed development will always motivate the noisy minority, creating a perception the community is against these. A good ward councillor will be able to judge whether that is the case and act accordingly. More often than not, however, we will see the ward councillor campaigning against a proposed development for the reasons outlined above.

Even without the influence of elections, there is an inherent conflict of interests: although ward councillors are elected to represent their wards, they are also bound to consider what is good for the community as a whole. This is where the planning committee system works well – the committee is drawn from the wider area and so will have a more detached view and will be able to consider the wider benefits of a proposal. Ward councillors will always be allowed to speak on applications affecting their wards, and where they sit on the committee, may be able to participate in the debate and vote, although they will need to declare the interest. Other councils, however, exclude sitting ward councillors in these circumstances either for that item or for the whole meeting, requiring a substitution.

Avoiding googlies at planning committee

But it is the ‘googly’ at the committee meeting which is the most frustrating: an issue which has not come up before, or you thought had been addressed, suddenly becomes huge on the night and results in a refusal or deferment. Although politics sometimes is the cause of these, it is more often a late issue raised by residents which touches a nerve, or through rumour or hearsay has been blown out of all proportion. Conversations with members before committees should identify these, and hopefully provide time for them to be addressed ahead of the committee.

Whenever contemplating a planning application, it is important for you to understand the political environment you are entering from the outset: the make-up of the council, the balance of power, what wards are up for election and the marginality of those wards. It is also important to know the general position on development, the local issues and the potential for opposition for your development before you start.

planning news

Waverley Plan Under Fire


The examination in public (EiP) of Part 1 of the Waverley Local Plan, allocating strategic sites across the borough up to 2032, got off to a rocky start in Farnham last week. Such was local interest in the EiP that two additional rooms had to be provided at the council’s offices to accommodate the numbers.

In April, in preparation for the EiP, the inspector had posed a series of questions to the council. These included questioning the allocation at Dunsfold aerodrome, the lack of allocation around Haslemere, Farnham and Godalming, and the high numbers around Cranleigh. He also questioned Waverley’s decision to defer proposed green belt changes to Part 2 of the plan and whether the whole approach provided certainty to developers and land owners.

The inspector, Jonathan Bore, gave a refreshing introduction to the EiP saying he would give guidance and rulings as he went along, instead of the usual delay at the conclusion of the EiP, which can often be several months. Without too much ceremony, the inspector went straight into the matters at hand by starting with the housing numbers.

He drew gasps of surprise when he bluntly stated to the room, which included the council, residents’ groups including Protect Our Waverley (POW), and CPRE, that no authority is an island and immune to providing much needed additional housing required in this country, singling out the county of Surrey in particular.

Basing the housing need on 2012 household figures when the 2014 figures were available meant the housing numbers were not up to date, and so inadequate. He asked the council to come up with a better starting figure. The inspector was looking for a significant increase, perhaps 25 per cent, to take into account affordability and possibly meeting 50 per cent of the HMA’s shortfall in provision caused by Woking’s inability to meet its OAN.

The local plan EiP has been further complicated by the Secretary of State call-in earlier this spring of Waverley’s decision to approve 1,800 new homes at Dunsfold Aerodrome, which is key strategic site allocated for 2,400 new homes for the borough. The Communities Secretary refused a previous application in 2009 for a 2,600-home development on the site on the grounds of transport impacts and prematurity. It has been announced that the public inquiry for the latest call-in will start on July 18 and run for 12 days. If the approval is overturned, the council will have to find 2,400 new homes elsewhere in the borough, on top of the additional numbers the inspector has already indicated.

The local plan EiP itself will resume again tomorrow (July 4), concluding on Thursday.