Farnham Cllr Jerry Hyman dared to question a major “and unlawful change” in planning decisions, claiming it flew in the face of ‘Your Waverley’s Constitution.
In full view of dignitaries and mayors from around the county at the Annual Mayor Making ceremony, Cllr Hyman challenged the right of the council to make major changes to the committee structure affecting how planning applications would be dealt with over the next four years. The controversial proposal to abolish both the Eastern & Western planning committees – was, he said,
“not a minor change but a major change and should be considered by the Standards Board.”
Earlier, Cllr Paul Follows, the newly re-appointed leader for 2023/2027, explained why the changes were necessary but reluctantly agreed that the Standards Board members and residents should have their say before introduction.
He said: “I think it is ridiculous that we cannot adopt this now – but that is entirely due to Councillor Hyman.”
In a WW nutshell, the Government has repeatedly threatened Waverley with having its planning powers removed indefinitely. That threat comes closer every day. This is despite planning performance having recovered to pre-Covid levels.
He said: “We are eight planning appeals away from having our planning functions curtailed, and the Government’s Planning Advisory Service has suggested that we must make our planning decisions more effective.”
It was not about the quantity of its planning decisions but the quality.
The changes above would speed up decision-making and fend off Waverley’s planning functions being taken over by the Government. He recognised deep concern among the council’s ranks (many of whom are new boys and girls on the block, elected just weeks ago.)
He said he sympathised with those concerned by the proposed changes, which included all Waverley’s Executive members being banned from planning committees under the new regime. This would consist of himself and his other Godalming Ward member colleague being unable to participate. “So I am not proposing something for others that I don’t intend for myself,”
This would also exclude Cllr Liz Townsend, The Portfolio Holder for Planning and an Executive Member, from serving on any planning committees.
Independent Cllr David Munro regarded the proposed changes as a retrograde step that would diminish ward councillors’ role.
Cllr Carole Cockburn said she had lived through the many lives of planning committees and believed tinkering with the structure was a “futile gesture” and would not solve Waverley’s “huge problems.” Councillors would be forced to travel far and wide for site visits and acquaint themselves with the Neighbourhood Plans of every town and village.
“I know planning here is in a mess, but these proposed changes will not help just diminish the role of councillors.”
Cllr Michael Goodridge, a well-seasoned and experienced councillor for Wonersh & Bramley, said the administration should consider going back to the days of the Main Planning Committee abolished due to Covid. He warned to make the changes proposed would be ” a disaster.”
A former councillor told the WW. Removing Ward members from Planning Committee decisions removes critical local knowledge and local democracy. Councillors are elected to represent their ward. This is an irrational proposal contrary to the guidance on probity in planning and common sense. Subject to the law, statutory guidance and Nolan Principles, it is for the councillors to decide their participation within just and efficacious planning processes.
The WW wonders – wouldn’t it be easier for this Government to have no councillors at all? – Just let the planning officers make the decisions or, better still, why not Government Inspectors? After all, dozens of planning meetings have been cancelled in recent years.
Here’s a comment from former Cllr Edmonds.
Councillor Hyman deserves praise for representing the community too many forget that Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires that the local planning authority must prepare a statement of community involvement. This raises a reasonable argument that it cannot be ignored with impunity. If local government does not lawfully serve the local community, who does it serve?