Planning committees comprise of a group of cross-party councillors who are supposed to meet each month to make decisions on the most important planning applications.
Out of eight planned meetings, just four have taken place since North Yorkshire Council was created in April to replace Harrogate Borough Council as the lead planning authority.
North Yorkshire Council pledged to allow local councillors the ability to approve or refuse key applications but there have been concerns across the county that power has been concentrated centrally with unelected officers making the decisions instead.
The committee’s chair Pat Marsh, who represents Stray, Woodlands and Hookstone for the Liberal Democrats, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week that she believes the current system is “wrong” and is removing councillors from the decision-making process.
Councillors are able to call in applications to be considered by the planning committee but only if there are sound planning reasons.
Cllr Marsh said:
“It is making a nonsense of having a planning committee and removes public participation from the planning process. I would like a review of the process and not just rely on councillors calling an application in. This is about openness and transparency.”
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Conservative vice chair of the committee Paul Haslam, who represents Bilton and Nidd Gorge, told the LDRS there is an ongoing review of the new planning committees and workload to ensure that they are deemed “fit for purpose.”
He said there has been recent meetings between the various chairs and vice-chairs and officers, where several reasons were given as to why there are fewer items going to committee.
Cllr Haslam said:
“Development applications are down 10% nationally, locally its about 20%. The nature of applications has also changed and there are more individual housing applications such as extensions as a percentage of the applications. All developments over 50 houses would automatically come to the planning committee.
“Additionally, we have a local plan and this has reduced the number of speculative applications. Finally the Harrogate district is much reduced in size and if you were to take the original area then we might have had as many as six applications to review, but these are now with other planning committees.
“I am therefore not sure that there is too much wrong with the process but that it’s a function of the market place and having a local plan. However it is subject to review and I am keen for us to get to the bottom of this sooner rather than later.”