North Yorkshire Council to re-examine planning decisions by unelected officers
Sep 4, 2023
North Yorkshire Council's offices in Harrogate

North Yorkshire Council officers have defended its planning service following a sharp decline in the number of development proposals being decided by councillors.

A meeting of the council’s transition scrutiny committee was told the authority was re-examining the balance between planning applications which could be made by unelected council staff and ones which went before the authority’s six area planning committees.

The authority’s planning service has been the focus of criticism by many councillors since it took over from the seven district and borough councils in April, with some areas seeing decreases of 60% in the number of decisions by councillors.

A recent meeting of all the planning committee chairs heard claims the council was only giving councillors the chance to decide upon developments it was legally bound to and had made its scheme of delegating decisions to planning officers “so tight that nothing’s really coming through”.

Harrogate councillor Philip Broadbank, a Liberal Democrat who represents Fairfax and Starbeck, told the meeting since April Harrogate borough had seen two planning meetings cancelled due to the lack of proposals being put before councillors and just one proposal being considered at other meetings.

He added that the move had led councillors to conclude that they were no longer closely involved with the planning process.

Cllr Broadbank said while 92% of planning applications had previously been decided by officers, it appeared the number being decided by elected members was getting fewer.

The meeting heard while much time was spent developing conditions which developers would have to adhere to to make a development acceptable, “sometimes it’s quite obvious nothing is done about enforcement to follow up if anything goes wrong”.

Cllr Broadbank said: 

“Elected members are there for a purpose. They are the ones who go round knocking on doors, they are the ones who need to be involved some of the decision-making that’s going on.”

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The meeting was told town and parish councils were “tearing their hair out” over the lack of or delays in enforcement action, often due to a lack of available legal support.

Committee members heard the Scarborough borough area had had no dedicated enforcement resource “for quite some time”, while Richmondshire was in a similar situation.

Grappling with change

Planning officers said councillors were able to call in contentious applications for committees to consider if there were sound planning reasons.

They said the council was examining where to focus its enforcement resources and legal support needed for an effective enforcement service.

Officers said they were “grappling with” whether the authority’s delegation system needed changing and that they were working to understand which proposals were decided by committees previously.

An officer underlined there had been no attempt to try to block some proposals going before councillors and officers were “trying to understand where those lines should be drawn”.

He added the authority would examine changing the balance over which planning applications should go before councillors.

The officer said: 

“The intention here isn’t to disenfranchise members. Members are a key part of this process.”

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