To consider the report (attached).
S Tautz, Democratic Services Manager, and N Richardson, Service Director (Planning Services) were in attendance.
This proposal had originally been made to improve the efficiency of the Area Plans Sub-Committees to avoid speakers waiting lengthy times. It had given members the opportunity to identify and agree requirements for formal site visits to be held prior to consideration of planning applications at the Area Plans Sub-Committees. It had been in operation since the commencement of the 2018/19 municipal year on a 6-month trial basis, subject to being reviewed by the Constitution Working Group. Therefore, a review of the success of this arrangement was overdue.
This item had been discussed at the Joint Meeting of Development Management Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen on 4 March 2019. Members were of the opinion that this procedure should be adopted on a permanent basis and that site visits should be agreed with a minimum of debate. There was also concern that if a site visit had taken place at an Area Plans Sub-Committee but the application referred for determination by the District Development Management Committee (DDMC), for consistency a further member site visit should be arranged prior to its consideration, which might delay an application coming before the next DDMC.
However, this did not preclude site visits being agreed by any planning committee, which could be achieved:
· by a resolution of a majority of members during consideration of an application prior to its determination; or
· that a formal site visit could be held on the approval of a Sub-Committee Chairman on the recommendation of the Service Director (Planning Services) under the Constitution (Article 10 – District Development Management Committee and Area Plans Sub-Committees).
However, to be consistent with the Area Plans Sub-Committees under Article 10 of the Constitution, a further suggestion was made at the Joint Meeting that a site visit could be held on the approval of the DDMC Chairman on the recommendation of the Service Director (Planning Services).
N Richardson said that this trial had seen an increase in the number of site visits being organised, even for Area Plans South. S Tautz added that the ideal situation was that a site visit would be voted on without debate, but this would also allow some further discussion on why a site visit was being requested. Nothing prevented a site visit being proposed during the debate of an application when that agenda item was reached and therefore, served to strengthen the opportunity to have site visits.
Councillor C C Pond said the (South) site visits he had attended had been very instructive for both members and officers, and had therefore been a worthwhile experience.
Councillor J H Whitehouse asked if topics to be discussed could be made known before a site visit.
Councillor J Philip wanted members to propose good reasons for holding a site visit. It would be up to the Chairman of a planning committee to ensure that a request for a site visit did not continue into a debate on the planning merits. He supported retaining the early site visit option and that for consistency, the DDMC Chairman should be able to recommend a site visit.
There was a consensus among members who supported and agreed with these comments and that it was preferable to have as many options as possible.
N Richardson commented that there was a very tight timeframe in which to arrange a site visit before an application came to committee once an agenda had been published, but it was an option for the chairman to request a site visit. Members could also visit sites themselves before the meeting.
Councillor S Jones acknowledged that planning officers had suggested site visits in the past.
Councillor M Sartin added that she had undertaken site visits herself but you couldn’t always see onto a site.
Councillor C C Pond agreed that developers had a propensity to put high fences around sites and was disappointed over the demise of Bing Birdseye, which had been useful in this task.
Councillor C C Pond asked if it would be useful to hold site visits for important planning applications that were referred to Full Council for determination. Furthermore, public speakers were not allowed to speak on applications at Council, and suggested that these be added to the Constitution Working Group’s Work Programme.
S Tautz commented on the practicalities of trying to arrange a site visit for 58 members. He also replied that there was no provision for the public to speak on a planning application at Council, except when an application had been submitted directly to Council without prior consideration by any planning committee. Also, if an Extraordinary Council meeting had been organised with the Chairman’s consent to determine a planning application, the Constitution limited the type of business that could be considered. Therefore, the Working Group might want to look at those arrangements, to which members agreed.
(1) That it be recommended to Council that the operation of the arrangements for the agreement of formal site visits, with regard to planning applications listed in agendas for meetings of the Area Plans Sub-Committees, be implemented on a permanent basis with effect from the commencement of the 2019/20 municipal year;
(2) That when a formal site visit had been undertaken by an Area Plans Sub-Committee but the application then referred for determination by the District Development Management Committee (DDMC), for consistency, a further member site visit for DDMC members be arranged prior to its consideration;
(3) That to be consistent with the Area Plans Sub-Committee under Article 10 of the Constitution, the option for DDMC to hold a site visit following a recommendation by the Service Director (Planning Services) and with the approval of the Chairman be allowed, to align with the Area Plans Committees; and
(4) That the following matters be added to the work programme of the Working Group:
(a) to consider possible arrangements for formal site visits to be held with regard to planning applications referred to Council for determination; and
(b) to review the existing arrangements in the Constitution whereby planning applications, when referred to meetings of Council or Extraordinary Council for determination, were not generally subject to arrangements for public speaking.