In the current edition of Private Eye
“Rotten Boroughs” feature we see an item headed “Democracy Quarantined” which refers to the “valuable opportunity for councils and developers to fast-track controversial schemes with minimal democratic scrutiny”.
It means that councils will “delegate authority on planning matters to town hall officials, by-passing the usual committee process”. This would be “manna from heaven” and “developers reaching for a big spoon”, to put it mildly!
Sure enough, the Government Chief Planner has written that “It is important that authorities continue to provide the best service possible in these stretching times and prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy. We ask you to take an innovative approach, using all options available to you to continue your service. We recognise that face-to-face events and meetings may have to be cancelled but we encourage you to explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead. We also encourage you to consider delegating committee decisions where appropriate.
“The Government has confirmed that it will introduce legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period, which we expect will allow planning committees to continue. We encourage you to be pragmatic and continue, as much as possible, to work proactively with applicants and others, where necessary agreeing extended periods for making decisions.
“We recognise that there may be circumstances where a local planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period. It remains important to prioritise these so important economic activity can continue. In these exceptional circumstances the authority can, if necessary, seek to agree an extended approval date with the applicant. Where agreement cannot be reached an authority may need to consider whether prior approval is refused if the application cannot be considered with the requisite attention”.
If the example of Labour led Lambeth is followed, “Covid-19 is a smokescreen for proposals to demolish six council estates, generate £millions by selling the sites for private development, social rent tenants moving elsewhere, about which the council refuses to release any documents for the public and opposition councillors left in the dark!”.
Watch out West Lancashire, as this “minimal democratic scrutiny” becomes the “planning norm”?