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Lib Dems Expose Council Error in Dealing with Planning Applications

February 26, 2008 4:13 PM
Scaffolding and building blocks.

Thanks to a council error, planning application decisions taken over the past three years have been made by officers behind closed doors using powers due to expire 3 years ago

Bedford Borough Council's current system of delegating planning application decisions from the Planning Committee to officers has been running for nearly four years despite being authorised as only a twelve-month trial back in May 2004, the Liberal Democrats have discovered. The startling revelation confirms that hundreds of planning decisions have been made behind closed doors by council officers using powers that were due to expire in May 2005.

Commenting on the issue, Bedford Borough Liberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr Michael Headley said:

"This whole issue is of grave concern. When the Planning Committee agreed in May 2004 to increase the number of decisions taken by officers rather than the Committee itself, it did so on the understanding that it was a trial scheme and only authorised it to run for a year. The fact that the scheme has been allowed to run on for nearly four years is a serious error. Planning applications can inspire strongly-held views with close neighbours often disagreeing about developments. Residents must have confidence in the system and be able to see that the procedures are working properly and are out in the open.'

"Crucial issues of accountability, legitimacy and transparency are at stake here. It is shocking that in an area as important as the making of planning decisions the council has not taken care to ensure everything is done correctly. Instead we have had officers making decisions in private using powers which were supposed to end nearly three years ago."

The council's constitution still includes the old 'scheme of delegation' which operated before May 2004. This gives members of the public the incorrect impression that officers cannot make in private a decision on a householder, advert or listed building application which contradicts a view expressed by a resident or a Parish Council and that instead the Committee would make the decision at a public meeting. For the past four years this has not been the case at all, with officers able to make decisions on these applications without referring them to the committee even if their decision contradicts views expressed by residents or parish, town or urban community councils.

The council's constitution also states incorrectly that all planning application decisions are submitted to the next meeting of the Committee for information.

After questioning by Liberal Democrats at last night's Planning Committee meeting, the council stated that the unauthorised extension of the system of delegated decisions had not been unlawful, but that the situation would now be "regularised."