Difference of opinion on planning issues

Potential changes to Northumberland County Council’s planning system have resulted in another political spat.

The proposals put forward by the development management service were fully backed by the Labour-led administration at a recent policy board meeting.

The Conservative group have concerns about some of them and its members claim the Labour group blocked a recommendation from the communities and place scrutiny committee for a cross-party working group to specifically look at two of the amendments.

It tried to ‘call-in’ the matter this week and one of the signatories was senior Lib Dem Andrew Tebbutt. But the authority ruled that this was ‘invalid’ because a final decision on the whole process has yet to be taken.

The Labour group also hit back yesterday by saying that opposing the proposals, which include removing the automatic trigger currently in place for the referral of an application to a planning committee when objections are made by a town or parish council, risks costing the council a lot of money through appeals being lost when planning committees did not follow officer advice.

The two items that the scrutiny committee wanted to discuss in more detail were changing the start time of planning meetings from 6pm to 2pm and amending the committee structure from three area committees and a central committee to two county-wide committees, one for strategic applications and the other for non-strategic applications.

Conservative group leader Peter Jackson said: “Northumberland County Council is in danger of becoming the most officer-led planning authority in the country where its residents, who they are meant to serve, have the least say.

“The refusal to call-in this decision makes a mockery of the scrutiny process and it’s a shame to see yet another offer of consensual working spurned by the Labour administration for the completely spurious reason of it being a ‘quasi-judicial’ decision.”

Council and Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “This is yet another example of the Tories putting politics before people.

“They would rather see chaos in the planning system than put party politics to one side for the good of the county.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “The policy board merely made recommendations to full council, which will make a decision on these issues on April 1.

“For a call-in to be valid there has to have been a decision taken, therefore it was not valid as it did not meet the requirements set out in the council’s constitution.”