Final decision on Northumberland planning system due next week

Planning meetings will take place at County Hall, apart from in 'exceptional circumstances'.
Planning meetings will take place at County Hall, apart from in 'exceptional circumstances'.

County councillors are to vote on a final decision about changes to Northumberland’s planning system next week, which will see the geographical area planning committees abolished.

Following a critical review of the planning service by the authority’s external auditors Deloitte, the Labour administration at County Hall put forward a number of changes, including removing the ability of town and parish councils to automatically refer any application to committee and introducing two countywide planning committees.

These controversial proposals were approved by the policy board in March before the recommendations went to full council in April. At that meeting, it was expected that the changes would be pushed through despite opposition, but, after almost three hours, consensus was reached which saw a cross-party working group set up to thrash out some of the issues.

Next Wednesday, the county council will meet again to finalise the new planning system, which will introduce three planning committees; strategic planning (for major developments such as windfarms), planning and rights of way committee and the planning and performance committee.

It is proposed that all three committees should have 15 members, politically balanced, and the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the two minor planning committees should have automatic places on strategic planning. It is also proposed that meetings take place in County Hall in Morpeth, but in exceptional circumstances, and where it is practical to do so, meetings may be held in the local area, at the discretion of the chairman.

It was already agreed in April that any delegated decisions with a valid town or parish council objection can be referred to committee by the chairmen of the committees, but any elected member will be able to refer applications in writing within 21 days of it appearing on the weekly list so long as it is based on valid planning reasons.

Members will also vote on a proposal to change the name of the policy board to cabinet and introducing a new central area committee, featuring Morpeth and the surrounding area, removing some wards such as Morpeth and Longhorsley from the north area committee.