Agenda item

Review and implementation of the recommendations of the Planning Committee Peer Review - findings of the working group


The Council considered a report on the findings of the Planning Committee Review Working Group, which had been established by the Executive in 2021, to consider the LGA/PAS Planning Committee Peer Review recommendations and other improvement needs, and to make recommendations as appropriate to the Executive, Planning Committee and full Council.


The working group had met on six occasions to consider the 12 recommendations.  The report included details of the working group’s discussion against each recommendation and their own recommended response to each of the recommendations. 


As most of the recommendations arising from the review affected the operation of the Planning Committee, the report had been referred initially to that Committee for comments at its special meeting held on 7 February 2023.  The Committee’s response to each of the working group’s recommendations was also included in the report. 


At its meeting earlier in the day, the Executive had considered the report on this matter and had endorsed the wording of the motion proposed by the Lead Councillor for Planning Development, Legal and Democratic Services, Councillor Tom Hunt, and seconded by the Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Joss Bigmore, which was set out in the Order Paper. 


During the debate, some councillors expressed concerns over:


·       the proposed revised process for referral of applications to the Planning Committee and consequential increase in councillors’ workloads

·       availability of planning officers to meet with ward councillors to discuss planning applications   

·       the absence of an automatic speaking slot for parish councils at Planning Committee

·       the inability of a ward councillor to raise concerns after the 21-day period has expired

·       the possibility that Chairman of the Planning Committee and Executive Head of Service could refuse almost every referral request without any means of challenging any such refusal


Following the debate, the Council


RESOLVED:  That, taking into account the comments and recommendations made by the Planning Committee Review Working Group and the Planning Committee in response to the recommendations of the Planning Committee Peer Review undertaken by the Local Government Association with the Planning Advisory Service, the Council agrees the following actions:


(1)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R1: (Provide greater certainty in planning process by ensuring decision making conforms with planning policies and material planning considerations acting on behalf of the whole Guildford community and ensuring that there is clear separation between ward level responsibilities and decision-making role on Committee), a regular (monthly) planning training programme, be reinstated via MS Teams, subject to the proviso that whilst the planning training programme would be regular, there might not on all occasions be training every month.


(2)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R2: (Explore ways to rebuild trust and confidence between officers and Members. Consider running an independently facilitated workshop to be held between officers and Members, separate to the Planning Committee meeting, to better understand their roles, issues, and concerns), an Officer/Member Workshop be held following the elections in May 2023.


(3)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R3: (Examine ways for Planning Committee and relevant officers to discuss and learn from appeal decisions to ensure that decisions on planning applications are undertaken, on behalf of the whole Guildford borough community, in a fair, impartial, and transparent way. The present system tagged onto the end of often long Planning Committees is not conducive to creating a learning atmosphere), quarterly appeal review sessions be held via MS Teams and facilitated by the Executive Head of Planning Development, noting that details of Appeal Decisions would continue to be included on Planning Committee agendas.


(4)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R4: (Review Planning Committee reports to see if further explanation can be given on the weight to be afforded to the Local and Neighbourhood Plan policies as well as material planning considerations such as the National Planning Policy Framework), appropriate mechanisms were in place already through which councillors could query policy weight afforded to particular proposals, noting that weight to be afforded to Local and Neighbourhood Plans and other material planning considerations would be covered in the training programme.


(5)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R5: (Ensure planning officers and Committee members are more aware of the impact of what a lack of housing delivery has on the weight given to Local Plan policies and kept appropriately updated on the work of the Housing Delivery Board), the topic of housing delivery be addressed as part of the Planning Committee training programme,which should include an overview of the Land Availability Assessment.


(6)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R6: (Review the opportunity for further guidance in the form of a supplementary planning document to help guide new high quality and sustainable development), in view of the current progress being made with SPDs and DPDs, no further action in response to this recommendation is required.


(7)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R7: (Review the Planning Committee referral system focusing particularly on the Member referral process (7-day procedure) and householder referral system to ensure that applications are not unnecessarily delayed and Planning Committee can focus on the strategically more important applications), the proposed process for Councillor Call-up (referral) to Planning Committee as set out in Appendix 3 to the report submitted to the Council, be approved.


(8)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R8: (Revisit the site visits protocol with particular emphasis on who attends and on ensuring a consistent approach of officers and conduct of members during the site visit), no changes be made to the current site visit protocol on the basis that councillors were aware of the need to ask for a site visit ahead of time rather than at the meeting itself which was noted to be useful for councillors in assessing the planning merits of a scheme.


(9)        That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R9: (Review the member overturns process so that alternative motions are raised by Members and advice is provided by officers prior to the officer recommendation vote being made), the proposed procedure for councillors overturning officer recommendations at Committee, set out in Appendix 4 to the report submitted to the Council, be approved.


(10)     That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R10: (Undertake bespoke probity in planning and appeals training for members with a neutral facilitator, for example, someone who has direct experience of being a Planning Inspector), the Probity in Planning training be incorporated into the annual training programme.


(11)     That, in response to the LGA/PAS Recommendation R11: (Review public speaking opportunities for Parish councils and special interest groups), the current public speaking arrangements be retained, but for the Chairman to retain the existing discretion to allow additional speaking slots for significant applications.


(12)     That paragraphs (1) to (5), and (10) above be implemented following the Borough Council Elections in May 2023, and paragraphs (7) and (9) above be implemented with immediate effect*. 


(13)     That the Executive Head of Planning Development be requested, in consultation with the relevant lead councillor and Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee, to undertake a review of the processes and practices referred to above after 12 months’ operation, or sooner if deemed necessary.



To modernise the operation of the Planning Committee and to review and update all associated processes and procedures.


*In response to a request for clarification as to when the revised Planning Committee referral process would be introduced, the Council was advised that it would be as soon as possible, subject to making the necessary changes to the system, but would not be introduced retrospectively.  All councillors would be notified by email of the effective date of implementation.  


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