‘I don’t want to be part of the planning committee’

Cllr Nick Brown
Cllr Nick Brown

A councillor has resigned from Scarborough Council’s planning committee because he disagrees with the system and the way it is operated.

Cllr Nick Brown said that councillors were being asked to “rubber stamp” decisions already taken by planning officers.

Cllr Nick Brown

Cllr Nick Brown

He added that the final straw came during a recent meeting when the committee approved a development which had been recommended for refusal.

The plan for the site of the former Strongwood pub in Eastway included nine homes and two shops – officers had ruled against it because it could take trade away from the high street.

Committee members have gone against officer advice on several occasions in recent months including rejecting a drainage scheme for a development in Cayton and an application from the rugby club.

Cllr Brown said: “I’m not criticising anybody but the system is just using councillors as rubber stamps.”

He added that he had sat on the committee for more than a year and in that time he had recieved quite a lot of training about what constitutes good or bad applications. “I have also done a lot of my own research into planning legislation.”

“Officers favourite saying is ‘every application should be taken on its own merit’ but it became ever more evident to me that some applicants are, to paraphrase Orwell, more equal than others.

“Applicants are given opportunity to lobby members at sessions that are called presentations – which is without doubt lobbying. Yet objectors to projects are not encouraged to give a presentation, unless you count the three minutes that they can speak at a committee meeting.

“I have come to realise that I am only needed to give legitimacy to decisions that have already been made.”

Cllr Brown said that a number of members were unhappy over conditions which were added to applications.

He said: “Many of these are suggested by members themselves. These conditions are there to prevent problems during and after construction, they are sometimes even suggested by developers to make a scheme look more acceptable to the committee.

“Developers accept these conditions, then during construction will come back to committee and request that they be lifted or altered to make their project more viable, and they always get their way.

“Conditions are placed to protect both current neighbours, and future inhabitants of the property being built, yet many times the more onerous are lifted to give a better profit.”

Pauline Elliott, head of regeneration and planning said: “Members always make up their own minds. Planning is a quasi-judicial process and members must receive comprehensive and appropriate advice before making any decision.

“Professional officer advice covers and reflects local and national planning policy and takes relevant planning guidance into account.

“Where members are minded to make a decision, which is contrary to that recommended in the officer report, officers are required to provide further advice at the committee meeting as to the potential consequences of such a decision.”