Council defends planning authority against designation

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG)  has formally advised Epsom & Ewell Borough Council that, based on the latest published statistics relating to the quality of decisions of planning applications for major developments, its planning authority is at risk of ‘designation’.  This could mean that developers will be able to make future applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate, bypassing local planning decisions.

Local planning authorities are responsible for approving or refusing planning applications.  All major development planning applications are determined by the Planning Committee (made up of elected local councillors), applying a set of national and local rules and criteria. If schemes are refused at this local level, applicants can appeal directly to the government’s Planning Inspectorate.

Under government regulations, if over a period of two years 10% or more major planning applications – schemes of 10 or more homes – are refused and subsequently the decision is overturned on appeal, the authority can be put into special measures (designation).

In the last 24 months, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council received 30 major planning applications. Of these, three applications were refused by councillors for a variety of reasons as being unsuitable for the borough, but were subsequently allowed on appeal. As this is 10% of the total number of those refused, it exceeds the Government threshold and so, along with a number of other local authorities, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council remains at risk of designation.

   Councillor Clive Woodbridge, Chair of the Planning Committee, said: “We intend to robustly defend our recent record on major planning applications and we are putting together a strong case to submit to MHCLG that the council should not be designated. Over the last 12 months we have made a number of significant improvements to enhance the quality of decision making within our planning processes and it is worth pointing out that in that time no major applications have been refused.

“It would be an absolute tragedy that if, after all we have done to strengthen our planning regime, all of our major decisions end up out of our control and in the lap of central Government, something that would further erode the local democratic accountability of the planning system.

“With the reporting period covering 24 months, and being retrospective, it takes vigilance over a sustained period of time for the position to improve. In 2017 we reviewed the way we evaluate and determine major planning applications and we have been careful to ensure the council will not exceed the 10% threshold going forward.

“As the new Chairman of the Planning Committee, I am determined to build on the good work undertaken by my predecessor and that we continue to make sound defensible planning decisions which secure the development needed in the borough, while protecting the interests of our community.”

The outcome of the formal response to the government will be reported to the Planning Committee in October 2019.

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