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Posted by: John Brace | 17th April 2014

Planning Committee approves planning application for houses in Irby by seven votes to five

Planning Committee approves planning application for houses in Irby by seven votes to five

                        

Video of Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting of the 16th April 2014

The Planning Committee meeting started as usual with her usual spiel about who were sitting around the tables (which considering that everyone had name plates seems a little unnecessary). She said that to her left was the solicitor (Rosemary Lyons) to “make sure everything is done legally” and that the officers (of which there were four) to her left where there to “guide us through our decisions and make sure everything is done appropriately with planning legislation”.

If the Chair thinks the role of the officers to her left is to make sure that decisions about planning applications are made according to planning legislation, then what’s the purpose of having a solicitor too? When every other committee at Wirral Council manages to cope with one legal adviser why does the Planning Committee need five to advise it on such matters?

She then went on to recap the rules on speaking for petitioners and applicants. The only change to usual is that she said, “A ward councillor can come forward and talk upon any item in their ward and they can speak for longer than five minutes but everybody only gets a chance to address the Planning Committee once.”

Until recently ward councillors were under the impression they could address the Planning Committee at any time when a planning application concerning their ward was being discussed. The Code of conduct for Planning Committee meetings and Wirral Council’s constitution have nothing in them about ward councillors talking at Planning Committee meetings. Certainly in the recent past at least one councillor thought they could speak at any time but the Chair told them they couldn’t. The only reference in the constitution to councillors and Planning Committees is that ward councillors can decide that they want a planning application to be decided by the Planning Committee rather than by officers.

The constitution states that any councillor can decide that a planning application is decided by the Planning Committee. The fact this isn’t limited to councillors in the ward the planning application relates to has been misused in the past. With fictional names I’ll give an example.

Mrs Smith is standing as the Labour candidate in Puddleton (a made up ward that doesn’t exist on the Wirral). Unfortunately for Mrs Smith Puddleton has three councillors from a different political party who know she is the Labour candidate in Puddleton. Mrs Smith spots a planning application that she thinks she can get a large petition of residents against it and gain votes of local residents affected by it. As the lead petitioner she will also get to speak against it for five minutes, if a councillor takes it out of officer’s hands and makes sure it is decided by the Planning Committee.

Unfortunately for Mrs Smith it’s over a minor matter and wouldn’t usually be decided by the Planning Committee. The planning officer wants to approve the planning application. Mrs Smith asks a Labour councillor (who doesn’t represent Puddleton) to make sure that it will be decided by the Planning Committee, therefore ensuring it is decided nearer the election and that there will be more media coverage of Mrs Smith’s campaign. The Labour councillor makes sure that this happens, thus making the residents think that Mrs Smith is influential and when the application is turned down a better choice than the existing councillor (also a candidate) which didn’t want it to be decided by the Planning Committee as he/she knew it was part of a party political ploy by Mrs. Smith to gain votes from local residents.

However, going back to the Planning Committee. The minutes of the meeting held on the 20th March 2014 were agreed. Nobody declared any interests and no requests for site visits were made.

The first planning application to be decided was OUT/14/00094: 38 Thurstaston Road, Irby, CH61 0HF: Outline planning application to create 2 No. new residential properties. A Wirral Council officer said that there had been seven letters of objection detailing various issues which she listed. Despite the objections officers felt it was compliant with national and local planning policies and recommended it for approval subject to conditions.

Councillor Wendy Clements said that had Tony Cox not resigned as a councillor that he would’ve attended the Planning Committee meeting and detailed the concerns of local residents. She talked about trees, British standards and asked planning officers about a tree survey.

Matthew Davies replied that there had been a tree survey with the application and it had also been assessed by the Council’s arboricultural officer. He pointed out that some of the trees mentioned by Cllr Wendy Clements were not part of the planning application and that they couldn’t impose conditions on trees outside of the boundary. He said that if trees were damaged outside of the boundary it was a civil matter.

Councillor Wendy Clements said that that was difficult to understand as the existing standard referred to trees on or adjacent to the site. She referred to appearance and amenity issues but accepted that whether it was unacceptable harm was a matter of opinion, but she felt that the way officers had written the report it implied that some harm would result. Cllr Clements passed around photos to show the effect on light on neighbouring properties. She referred to policy HS4 and how the scale of what was proposed fitted into the surrounding area.

Councillor Elderton asked to see the plan, but he pointed out that as it was an outline planning application that the position of the houses was only indicative at this stage. He thought different positions of the houses would be more suitable but stated that it couldn’t be turned down based on the indicative positions as they were only indicative. He asked officers for advice as he was not happy with the proposed development.

Matthew Davies said that as it was an outline planning application that all matters would be reserved and that the plan was only for indicative purposes. He said that if the application was approved then Wirral Council would have significant control over the scale, site, appearance and where the properties were sited.

Councillor Wendy Clements moved refusal on the basis that it would result in a development that was cramped, overdeveloped and that the two dwelling would cause a detrimental change to the area contrary to the guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework and policy HS4 of the Unitary Development Plan.

Councillor Steve Foulkes said that he felt three was feasible on the plot, he asked what the average plot size was for surrounding properties? Matthew Davies replied that the officers felt it was possible to have three dwellings on the plot. Although plot sizes were similar on one site of the application site, they were different to what was proposed on another. Therefore in his opinion it was up to councillors to make a judgement as to whether three could be accommodated taking into account the detail that would be decided at the reserved matters stage.

Councillor Geoffrey Watt seconded Councillor Wendy Clements motion for refusal.

For refusal: Councillor Wendy Clements (proposer), Councillor Geoffrey Watt (seconder), Councillor Simon Mountney, Councillor Eddie Boult, Councillor David Elderton and Councillor Philip Brightmore (6)
Against refusal: Councillor Stuart Kelly, Councillor Bernie Mooney, Councillor Denise Realey, Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Joe Walsh, Councillor Irene Williams (6)

The motion for refusal was 6 votes to 6. The Chair didn’t say how she used her casting vote. However she deemed the motion for refusal to be lost.

There was then a vote on the officer’s recommendation for approval. This was proposed by Cllr Denise Realey and seconded by Councillor Steve Foulkes.

For approval: Councillor Stuart Kelly, Councillor Bernie Mooney, Councillor Denise Realey, Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Joe Walsh, Councillor Irene Williams and Councillor Philip Brightmore (7)
Against approval: Councillor Wendy Clements (proposer), Councillor Geoffrey Watt (seconder), Councillor Simon Mountney, Councillor Eddie Boult and Councillor David Elderton (5)

The motion for approval was won by 7 votes to 5 so the application was approved.

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