Following yesterdays post we have now received a reply from Dorset Council legal team and this is set out below. The reply basically says councillors agreed to the officers having final say on planning applications going to committee – so it is not undemocratic!
I think we need to be lobbying for the scrapping of this undemocratic scheme of delegation. I know that there are local and county councillors who agree with this sentiment but may find it difficult to challenge the unelected officers!
“Dear Mr Summerton
I am sorry that you did not receive a response to your 16 September email to Mr Prosser. The email was passed to me because of your concerns about delegated decision making and the Council’s Constitution and I am afraid that I overlooked completely the need to reply.
The Council’s Constitution includes a scheme of delegation describing those decisions that councillors have themselves decided should be made on their behalf by officers. Before Dorset Council was formed the Shadow Council (that is to say the 205 councillors from the six predecessor councils) agreed a scheme of delegation. Councillors who were subsequently elected to Dorset Council were unhappy with aspects of the scheme and required changes to be made, in particular to ensure a greater say for local ward councillors in relation to “calling in” planning proposals for decision by an area planning committee rather than by officers. I am confident therefore that the scheme of delegation and how it operates in relation to planning is not something that has been introduced without the knowledge and approval of councillors. As the scheme of delegation is something that elected councillors have themselves decided upon I do not believe that it can fairly be criticised as undemocratic.
I note that the application (P/FUL/2021/01762) is listed as still being under consideration and that two of the three ward councillors and the neighbouring Town Council have asked that it should be called in to the Area Planning Committee for decision. Before the application is determined planning colleagues will need to review with the chair and vice-chair whether the application should be called in. By copy I have asked Mr Garrity to let you know whether the application is to be called-in or decided under delegated powers and the reasons.
Lobbying of councillors is a usual part of the planning process and we have arrangements in place so that if an application is to be decided by committee people (whether the applicant, objectors or supporters) can make their representations to the committee, in public. Planning decisions are though made within a legal framework, key parts of which are structured consultation in advance about the proposal and the publication (for all to see) of the various representations received. Mr Garrity did not try to dissuade you from making representations. Instead his encouragement was to submit representations via the planning portal so that they reached the case officer. Whilst I recognise that you dislike the prospect, there is the potential for this application to be decided by an officer under delegated powers. It would not help you to get your points across if you were to lobby and make direct representations to councillors on the Area Planning Committee, only to find that the decision was to be made by an officer unaware of separate submissions that you had made directly to councillors.
Once again, I apologise for overlooking your email.
|Corporate Director Legal & Democratic|
|Senior Leadership Team|