Council bravery highlighted by member of planning committee

BRAVERY is often needed to go against the wishes of the public, a member of Swansea Council’s planning committee has said.

Cllr Des Thomas said he felt the committee was seen as “the bad guys” for making planning decisions, while planning officers were also viewed as “the bad guys” for the recommendations they made.

Most planning decisions are made by officers but some are taken by the 12-strong committee of councillors, whose meetings are held in public at Swansea’s Guildhall.

Cllr Thomas said public participation in meetings was welcome and that it was interesting to hear residents’ views. But he added: “Inevitably the views are very similar – transport, not enough room in the doctor’s surgery, not enough room in schools. Members have to make a difficult decision when they are being so closely scrutinised by the public. Quite often it takes a brave member (councillor) that takes a decision against the public.”

The West Cross ward member,  who was speaking at a council scrutiny committee meeting, said the applications which came before the planning committee had an “immense” amount of background information. “Overall, I think there is a good service provided to the residents of Swansea by the planning department as a whole,” he said.

The scrutiny committee was given an update on the planning department’s performance in 2018-19.

The report said 99% of all planning applications were determined within the required timescales – the average time being 57 days.

For major applications, the figure was 88% – a vast improvement on the 6% decided within the timescales four years ago.

The report also said 72% of decisions which were appealed were subsequently dismissed – a rise from 59% the previous year, indicating that the quality of decision-making had improved.

And there was a 26% increase in the number of enforcement cases being investigated within 84 days.

Cllr Chris Holley said he wanted councillors to be given more opportunity to call in controversial applications to the planning committee. “The public interest test is such that it’s very difficult to get them through,” he said.

Cllr Thomas also said that appeal decisions made by Welsh Government-appointed inspectors with “no affiliation with Swansea” could be a source of frustration. “We would like to see something diiferent in place,” he said.

Cllr David Hopkins, cabinet member for delivery, said council leader Rob Stewart had met a Welsh Government minister recently to discuss this issue.

Cllr Hopkins thanked planning officers for their work and said he felt Swansea was one of the best performing planning authorities in Wales.

Cllr Peter Jones said he was keen to ensure the planning department had sufficient capacity to monitor and enforce developers’ environmental obligations.

The council is increasingly having to buy in specialist planning knowledge due to budget constraints, and 70% of the department’s income is from fees – particularly from major applications like large-scale housing schemes.

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