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Audit Wales report on Ceredigion County Council planning department discussed in special meeting

A special meeting was held to discuss a recent Audit Wales that criticised the planning department at Ceredigion County Council.

Members of the council’s governance and audit committee met virtually on Monday (January 17) to discuss the Audit Wales report that included a number of recommendations needed to improve the development control committee and the planning department.

The committee focused on the authority’s response to the recommendations and the steps to be taken – as well as those already started – but there was also disappointment in the report expressed by some members.

Questions were also raised about the “definition of sustainable locations” as councillors including Cllrs Keith Evans, Lynford Thomas and Rowland Rees-Evans emphasised the difference between rural Ceredigion and Cardiff.

Some decisions taken are “a problem for them in Cardiff but not to us,” said Cllr Rees-Evans, adding the development control committee made difficult judgements on matters affecting rural communities.

Cllr Thomas said the delay in updating the Local Development Plan (LDP) did not assist with meeting policy while Cllr Evans said some of the views in the report were “subjective” and a move away from the democratic process.

Corporate lead officer economy and regeneration Russell Hughes-Pickering outlined the action plan being undertaken by the authority, which was updated by a task and finish group following the Audit Wales report.

A review of the constitution and current practices is under way, including proposed revisions and amendments to member’s roles and the automatic reporting of certain applications from the delegation scheme, as well as a revised code of practice.

Improving the link between a planning decision and the strategic plan of the council was highlighted and there will be systems designed to help committee members assess the impacts of decision making and a tender brief has been drafted to appoint consultants to help clear planning application and enforcement backlogs.

Cllr Rhodri Evans, chairman of the task and finish group, said that there was a “tension between national planning policies and infrastructure and the needs of rural communities,” echoing previous earlier comments made at the meeting.

He highlighted the introduction of a ‘cooling off period’ which was a “significant step forward” and the in depth discussion held by the group was already showing value.

Governance and audit committee chairman Cllr Elizabeth Evans said: “There’s a clear direction of travel for a way forward to meeting these recommendations or at least addressing them.”

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