Portsmouth City Council bids to move more planning decisions behind closed doors to save cash
MORE non-controversial planning applications could be decided behind closed doors if a rule change goes ahead.
Portsmouth City Council wants to save money and time by ensuring fewer planning bids go to a committee of councillors. Instead, minor applications will be decided by council officers.
Changes include only referring a development to committee if there are 10 or more homes, up from the current six.
Under the new plans if an officer recommends the scheme for approval or refusal and three members of the public disagree it will then go to committee. Previously this just required one person to disagree.
The thresholds were temporarily changed last summer in a bid to deal with a backlog caused by the first lockdown but cabinet member Councillor Hugh Mason is considering making these permanent.
A report says this would save on councillor and council officer time while also reducing costs. A planning committee decision is 10 times more expensive on average compared to delegated decision by a council officer.
Last year's amended rules ran until February this year. Some planning committee members felt they did not go far enough to prevent 'minor cases' reaching them.
'While in operation it was considered that the August 2020 amendment was effective in reducing unnecessary burdens to the planning committee without adversely affecting users of the planning services,' the report by the council's assistant director of planning, Ian Maguire, says.
'Members of the planning committee however noted that there were still a number of minor cases that were not delegated to officers and expressed an opinion that such matters did not require committee consideration.'
His report, published ahead of Cllr Mason's decision-making meeting on Thursday, recommends the changes.
'It is in the public interest for the local planning authority to have effective delegation arrangements in place to ensure that decisions on planning applications that raise no significant planning issues are made quickly and that resources are appropriately concentrated on the applications of greatest significance to the local area,' the report adds.
'The direct cost is mostly in officer time as a significant amount of additional time is needed to support the committee in their decision-making.
'As well as the cost and capacity saving to the authority there are advantages of ensuring the planning committees minimise their sitting time.'
Cllr Mason said councillors needed to have sufficient time to consider the most complex applications submitted to the council.
'It is important that the planning committee are given the opportunity to review the most contentious and significant planning decisions the city faces, and we need to ensure our constitution correctly sets the rules to ensure that this can be efficiently done,' he said.