Council’s planning processes to be reviewed after development row

HEADQUARTERS: Huntingdonshire District Council's Pathfinder House

HEADQUARTERS: Huntingdonshire District Council's Pathfinder House - Credit: Archant

A review of the way Huntingdonshire District Council’s planning committee works is to take place following a row over the way controversial plans for housing on the site of the former forensic science laboratory in Huntingdon were approved.

A standards investigation into the way the meeting was handled by the chairman, Councillor Eric Butler, is already taking place.

Councillor Tom Sanderson wanted a meeting of the full council to “express its disapproval” at the way the development management committee was dealt with at its October meeting in which 103 houses were given the go-ahead.

But council chief executive Jo Lancaster warned the meeting that a debate on the issue could prejudice the ongoing standards complaint procedure.

Councillors accepted a proposal by deputy leader Councillor Ryan Fuller to set up a cross-party advisory group to review the committee’s processes.

The October meeting had been brought forward by an hour and the laboratory site, which had been rejected by councillors earlier in the year, put at the beginning of the agenda when three members were unable to attend.

Approval of the scheme left residents, who had been concerned about traffic, “gutted” but at the time Cllr Butler told The Hunts Post that there had been “no ulterior motive” in bringing the item forward which had been for the convenience of attendees.

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Cllr Sanderson had wanted the council to stop the planning committee chairman having the power to vary the order of the business and that the starting time should be set at 7pm.

Cllr Sanderson told The Hunts Post he felt his motion had been “blocked”, adding: “I think it will be chipped into the long grass”.

He said the council was the best place to deal with the issue instead of a working party and that a debate could have been pulled

back by the chairman if it threatened to prejudice the investigation.

Councillor Mike Shellens said he felt he had been “gagged” and Councillor Pete Reeve said Cllr Sanderson’s motion had been positive and he welcomed the opportunity to review the development management panel.

Cllr Fuller told The Hunts Post he thought there had been an “over-reaction” to the planning decision, but added: “Whilst I disagreed with the assumptions made in Cllr Sanderson’s motion I do think there would be some value in satisfying ourselves that development management committee procedures are up to date and fit for purpose and therefore I proposed an amendment that a cross-party advisory group be appointed to commence a review of the operational processes of the development management committee.”

He said terms of reference and membership would be set at the planning meeting next month.