‘Grave concern’ has been voiced at proposals to allow private companies to handle planning applications.
The Tory Government is currently consulting on the idea of giving ‘approved providers’ the power to process applications to see if competition improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.
The issue was raised during a West Sussex County Council Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday (April 5) by Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester East), who asked if councillors wanted to highlight it to the cabinet member along with their concerns.
He said it would give applicants the option of having their application processed by either local authorities such as WSCC or an approved provider, which could be a private company.
He added: “This would change the way we would do things to the way things have gone with building regulations.”
Liz Kitchen (Con, Warnham and Rusper) went a step further, saying: “I do not think concern is strong enough. I think it’s grave concern.”
She added: “I think it will make such a difference and take planning away from directly elected members.”
However the consultation document states that decision-making on planning applications would stay with local authorities and the proposed changes were not about forcing them to outsource their processing function.
Applicants could go to approved providers, which could even be neighbouring local authorities, to have their planning application processed.
The provider would carry out the required notification, consultation and decision making, and would then make a recommendation to the local planning authority, who would still make the final decision ‘ensuring no loss of democratic oversight’.
Duncan Crow (Con, Tilgate and Furnace Green) suggested they did not have enough information in front of them, but Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill Town) called it a ‘very important issue’ and thought that ‘unfortunate circumstances could arise’ from the changes.
Cllr Barrett-Miles added: “I think it’s appropriate the cabinet member does write [to Government] and express my concern, but it would have more weight if it comes from all of us.”
Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown), chair of the committee, said the concerns raised would be noted in the minutes of the meeting and the cabinet member would be made aware of the issues highlighted.
The consultation runs until Friday April 15.
To comment visit www.gov.uk/government/consultations/implementation-of-planning-changes-technical-consultation
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