Chichester planning shake-up could be approved

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CHANGES to the district council’s planning committee could be on the cards.

Under proposals set to be debated next week, the number of councillors could be cut and ward members could lose the right to speak at the start of applications.

The planning task and finish group at Chichester District Council has prepared a report on the changes, which follow a revamp of the committee last year.

Further changes to committee, formerly two area development management committees, will be discussed by cabinet members tomorrow (September 9).

The group suggested reducing the number of members on the committee from 18 to 15 in a bid to save time.

“An analysis of time taken at one meeting suggests member debate took just under 60 per cent of meeting time (with officer presentations and public speaking taking about 20 per cent each) and this could be reduced if there were fewer members – borne out by observation that decision-making speeds up in the later part of meetings after some members have left,” said the report.

It also suggested stopping the convention of ward members speaking at the start of application discussions.

The report said ward members ‘might be susceptible to local pressure’, and members on the committee were able to make sound and balanced judgements on applications across the district.

The group suggested membership of the planning committee should reflect the political balance of the council, and have only one council member from each ward.

It also said members must attend formal training sessions so they understand planning principles, policy and guidance.

Another suggestion was to cut down the timing of officer presentations to the committee, as they were ‘very good but inclined to be too detailed’.

The report said officers should focus more on key issues when speaking.

There was also a review of the new practice of officers having delegated powers to make decisions on domestic planning applications.

The change caused a stir last year, when parish councils said it would weaken their position because they would be unable to make their case to a committee if they objected.

However, ward members can still use the red card system to flag up domestic planning applications which they think should be heard by the committee, rather than decided by officers.

Reviewing the delegated powers, the planning task and finish group said, despite initial concerns about the move, the delegation system was working ‘satisfactorily’.

Cabinet members will decide whether to recommend the report for approval by the full council at their meeting at East Pallant House from 9.30am on tomorrow.