Memorandum by Somerset Association of
Local Councils (PGP 15)
This evidence is submitted on behalf of the
Somerset Association of Local Councils whose membership comprises
the Parish, Town and City Councils in the administrative County
There are some 260 Local Councils in the County
ranging from the Town Council of Yeovil, the City Council of Wells
to the Parish Council of Cutcombe (a small settlement in the middle
of Exmoor). There are 2,319 Councillors on the Parish Councils
in the county.
1. PRESENT SITUATION
I regret that it appears to be necessary to
state the position of the Local Councils in the Planning and Development
Control functions in the real world.
Parish, Town and City Councils are statutory
consultees on the production of Local Plans as shown in Town and
Country Planning (Development Plan) Regulations 1991 at regulation
10 (1) (d).
Parish, Town and City Councils have the right
to be notified of development control applications in their area
under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 schedule 1 paragraph
Power to make the formal decision in respect
of some specific applications is delegated to certain Town and
Parish Councils in the Taunton Deane Borough Council area. This
power arises under the same power that allows an officer to make
decisions on behalf of an authority.
You will readily appreciate that our members
are very concerned to see that their work in this area is totally
unrecognised in the Green Paper. It was even more annoying therefore
to be advised on enquiry that the Department had no intention
of sending copies of the paper to all parishes. Indeed, at one
time it was claiming an inability to do so; despite the mailing
of a reprint of part of the Local Government White Paper to all
parishes at about the time of publication.
Our members are concerned to see that there
is a proposal to seek the views of the "community" as
part of the process of drawing up a Local Area Framework yet there
is no suggestion that the Local (Parish) Council is an appropriate
body to put such views. Community involvement is essential.
Local Councils are directly elected, independent
tax-raising authorities required to work in accordance with a
statutory code of conduct and formal registration of interests.
Meetings of such authorities are conducted openly and in most
cases with the public being given an opportunity to comment on
the matters being discussed.
If any other body is used for "community
consultation" such rules and codes do not apply to them or
to their individual members.
We note that at paragraph 5.52 it is stated
that development control gets right to the heart of the community's
interests. The present system whereby the Parish Council makes
comments based on local views early in the process is surely the
best example of doing just that. There is an element of trust
which, if the decision is taken away from the influence of locally
directly elected councillors and put in the hands of the un-elected
officers, will surely lead to the further lack of trust and respect
in local government. The principle applies whether to Local Planning
or to Development Control.
This need to have the involvement of the community
whilst needing to avoid the pressure group makes, on its own,
a very strong case for the establishment of Parish Councils (called
Local Councils perhaps) in the urban areas.
3. OTHER POLICY
Ministers in the Department for the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs have recently launched, through the Countryside
Agency, a grant programme in relation to Parish Plans, a proposal
which does not rate a mention in the Green Paper. We are tempted
to conclude that the days of community involvement in such things
as Village Design Statements, Parish Maps and Planning for Real
are over. The lack of "joined-up Government" has been
a noticeable part of our discussions on these topics out in Area
Meetings around the county.
Member councils are not impressed by proposals
to delegate even more applications to officers as this is placing
power in the hands of the un-elected and in many cases in the
care of individuals who have not acquired sufficient experience
or qualifications to do the job properly. It would be far preferable
to really mean that the matter gets right to the heart of the
local community and to let the local community make the decisions.
Only the Parish Councils offer the formal route into the heart
of the community.
Members are concerned at the imposition of crude
simple measures which take no account of the quality of decisions
and the support for the activities of the planners in the community.
4. NATIONAL PARK
I am sure that the Association of Park Authorities
will be taking up the issue of their oversight but our members
noted that the role of the National Park Authorities was also
totally overlooked in the paper. This was taken as some evidence
therefore of the concern the Department has for the highest quality
environment in its charge!
5. LOCAL AREA
The move away from the over-bureaucratic Local
Plans process is generally welcome but, given the apparent misunderstandings
and oversights apparent from the rest of the paper, there appears
to be little support for the proposals as presented. The test
set in paragraph 5.52 (the extent to which the planning system
is trusted by the community) appears to have been failed by the
rest of the paper.
6. THIRD PARTY
It is this failure to address reality that prompts
many of the Association members to support the idea of a third
party right of appeal against the granting of permission. Members
are well aware of the need for timeliness and for certain hurdles
to be set that have to be overcome to avoid the frivolous or vexatious.
We suggest that the almost perverse decisions
of officers or committees should be subject to some form of intervention
by the Regional Office to ensure that the process is not brought
into disrepute. Some of us have read the Report into the North
Cornwall situation and understand the problems that can arise.
We would strongly support any proposal that a form of Appeal should
be given to a Local Council in the case where a permission is
contrary to Policy, and the officer's recommendation; such appeal
to be limited to the full council making the decision and to it
being made within 14 days of the issue of a provisional certificate.
This is a similar position to those decisions made by cabinet
style local government which are called in under the scrutiny
Members are keen to see a strengthening of the
enforcement process recognising this must be at the expense of
additional officers and training. A retrospective planning application
should be charged penal rates of fees (suggesting five times the
standard charge). Enforcement needs to be seen to be an effective
part of the process to restore the public confidence which the
whole planning system should earn. At one meeting there was almost
an air of competition to see which area could out-perform the
others. One enforcement case is older than the District Council
trying to enforce the removal of a scrap-yard. There was only
one real example of a development being substantially altered
as a result of enforcement, in all other cases it appeared to
be a charter for the non-compliant.
Peter W Lacey
17 March 2002