DENBIGHSHIRE councillors voted to avoid discussing a controversial planning application for NHS houses of multiple occupation because the matter was considered too controversial before an election.
Thirteen councillors voted for the three planning applications to be deferred.
Local authorities across Wales are currently in a pre-election period as existing councillors and new candidates ramp up their election campaigns.
Consequently, usual council business is suspended until after the vote, but the council still has an obligation to process planning applications within the statutory eight-week period.
But politically controversial matters are usually left off council agendas until after an election.
But at a committee Zoom, councillors opted not to discuss retrospective applications for the change of use for three homes to houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) at 7 Llys Walsh, Rhyl; 1 Lon Taylor, Rhyl; and 3 Lon Taylor, Rhyl.
The homes on the Aberkinsey Estate in south east Rhyl have been used by Cartrefi Conwy to house Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board nurses from abroad during the pandemic. But now Cartrefi Conwy, a social landlord, is seeking retrospective permission for the HMOs, which have shared kitchens and bathrooms.
Whilst the three applications were minded for approval, Rhyl Town Council strongly objects to the plans, arguing the council has spent millions regenerating the town and removing HMOs and bedsits.
But Brian Jones said it was unfair to expect councillors to discuss controversial matters before an election.
“I would like to propose a deferral on this application on the grounds that any decision, on what is locally a controversial application, might have a direct effect on residents’ voting intentions as it is so close to the May election,” he said.
Council officer Paul Mead responded
“Normally, with any deferral request, we have to have a material planning reason (to delay). What is slightly different in this instance is we are in a pre-election period.
“So the question is do any of the planning applications that are presented to the planning committee within the pre-election period hit that trigger for potentially having some impact on the political decision-making during that pre-election period?
“There was one application that was proposed to go on the committee today that we did liaise with our legal officer, who suggested that be taken off the planning committee. That was an application in the Prestatyn area, Alexander Drive; however, the three applications here in Rhyl, given that they are currently retrospective (and) the properties are being used for this purpose, the advice was these were OK to keep on (the agenda). That is the advice I can give, unfortunately, that we didn’t feel it was hitting pre-election period criteria.”
Mr Jones added:
“It is clearly controversial because it has been going on since before the autumn last year.
“I think the officers have been naive here. They should have known, at local level, that this was going to be a controversial application running up to the election, which it is, and I’m being put on the spot to make a decision today when I shouldn’t be, and the other application that didn’t come on the agenda today, you could have made a perfectly good argument for it to be on it, so that’s why I’m proposing a deferral, so no dirty washing comes out.”
Joan Butterfield seconded Brian Jones’ proposal.
“I do think it could a bit of a political football, and I think it might be taken out of the arena until after the election,” said Cllr Butterfield.
But Gwyneth Ellis disagreed, arguing a prior application about a weather mast and wind farm had been discussed and decided.
“I don’t think there are many more political issues than wind farms, so I think we should be considering the proposals that come before committee. Everybody is going to think that things in their ward are political and should be delayed, but I think we should be discussing what’s before the committee.”