OBJECTORS to planning applications in Huntingdonshire are set to get their voices as part of a trial scheme to open up access to decision making. Already the councillor members of Huntingdonshire District Council s development control panel and planners a
OBJECTORS to planning applications in Huntingdonshire are set to get their voices as part of a trial scheme to open up access to decision making.
Already the councillor members of Huntingdonshire District Council's development control panel and planners at Pathfinder House are bracing themselves for some very long meetings.
Subject to full council approval in December - a virtual formality - the 12-month trial will start at the panel's January 2007 meeting. Its operation will be reviewed after six months, when the precise arrangements may change if necessary.
The new arrangements will work as follows: a spokesman for the relevant town or parish council will get three minutes to speak in favour of the application or against, followed by the ward member of HDC and members for adjacent wards that might be affected by the application.
The scheme will then provide the first three objectors to register their wish to speak, with one minute each to highlight their concerns.
The objectors can - if they agree - allow one person to act as spokesman for all, and he or she gets three minutes.
Finally, it is the turn of the applicant or applicant's agent to address the panel for three minutes.
The same arrangements will apply when planning applications are determined by the full council.
For controversial applications with cross-ward boundary effects, it is estimated this could add 20 minutes to each application.
The panel often has half a dozen planning applications with serious objections at a single meeting, so the new system could add a couple of hours to what are already the longest committee meetings at HDC.
The panel's starting time of 7pm on Monday will not be changed yet, but it may have to start much earlier in future. Applications against which objectors have registered their wish to speak will be taken early in the meeting to allow members of the public interested in only one item to leave Pathfinder House at a reasonable hour.
"I advise panel members to get a decent night's sleep the previous day," Councillor Peter Bucknell, cabinet member for planning, told last week's HDC cabinet.
Councillor Nick Guyatt, his predecessor in the role, welcomed the move. He pointed out that, with planning law making presumptions in favour of development, objectors should be given the chance to know that their views had been properly considered.
Most planning applications are uncontroversial and, if they accord with HDC's planning policy, are approved by planning officers.
If there are material objections that cannot be resolved by negotiation or by conditions on the planning consent, or if there is a minor but material departure from HDC's planning policy, officers will ask the politicians to decide it at development control panel.
The panel can refer an application to the full council, which must also consider any major departure from the planning framework. In some cases, particularly, if HDC wants to give itself planning consent for a major development, it would have to be rubber-stamped by the Government Office for the East of England.