There are “significant long-standing weaknesses” in Ceredigion County Council’s development control committee’s governance arrangements, a scathing Audit Wales review has found.
A review of the planning service was carried out earlier this year and Audit Wales has published its report and recommendations this week, stating the committee was “not sustainably or cohesively supporting the council to improve performance and achieve its strategic objectives and priorities.”
Of particular concern was the way affordable housing was being dealt with, and the number of applications approved “against professional officer advice” despite most of the single affordable dwellings being much larger than the size permitted in council guidance.
The report states that these homes are included in affordable housing data submitted to Welsh Government “even though these dwellings do not comply with the Council’s affordable housing supplementary guidance and LDP due to their large size and location in open countryside” and the houses were open to legal challenge on their affordable status.
“The Council’s Development Control Committee routinely makes decisions to approve planning applications based on non-material considerations. Examples include an applicant’s mental and physical health and age of applicant. These are not material planning considerations and contradict the Council’s own Code of Conduct for Councillors and Officers in Planning Matters as well as local and national planning policies,” adds the report.
It also found that Ceredigion, unlike many other local planning authorities, did not require major applications to be considered at committee, and “there is little public visibility and little member debate of these applications.”
The report states that only two major applications were brought to committee between April 2019 and May 2021, due to being called in by local members, but officers considered 17 under delegated powers.
The review found that the committee did not routinely consider strategic risks or “knock-on impact” of decisions contrary to professional officer advice, local planning policies and national polices on the county’s “wider infrastructure and services.”
It adds that the planning service is improving its performance in the time taken to determine applications there were still issues with enforcement action and the high number of member decision contrary to officer advice.
A number of recommendations are made including review the council constitution to strengthen the governance of development control arrangements, ensure planning decisions are based on policy not personal circumstances, make recordings of committee meetings publicly available and establish a framework to assure priorities are being met.
Ceredigion County Council was contacted for comment.