New processes to manage and determine planning applications come into effect today (Thursday 1 November), which will streamline the system for individuals and inform better decision-making for larger proposals. In the first major update of the planning system for South Gloucestershire since the 1990’s, the new approach will retain a number of positive and unique aspects of the local system, but also take on best practice from other councils. The changes were agreed by Council on 18 July, 2018.
Most users of the planning system will not notice any big changes, but we hope there will be noticeable improvements in the speediness and consistency of the decision-making, which will improve the service we provide. Individuals applying to add a conservatory or loft conversion to their home should experience a more streamlined system, for example.
The changes will affect the types of planning decision made directly by councillors, and those made by officers under what are known as delegated powers.
For applications going to a planning committee, we will separate out the larger applications from the smaller ones: these will now go to different committees to improve the way these decisions are made.
Overall the new system is designed to deliver better value for money for applicants, but also for the council as we aim to reduce the risk of costly legal challenges by developers, by ensuring the most significant or controversial applications are given careful scrutiny in the light of advice from officers before a decision is made or confirmed.
We will retain the system whereby councillors are able to escalate consideration of an application to a Committee, but this will now require three councillors to support such referrals instead of just one, to make sure the applications going to committee fully merit consideration by councillors, and the extra time and additional costs this entails.
The purpose and focus of sites inspections by Committee Members has also been clarified through these changes. Members of the public will now be able to draw councillors’ attention to any relevant issues concerning the site or its surroundings at the public committee meeting, putting Members in an informed position, ahead of their decision on whether or not to visit the site.
The visit itself will be for Members, with representative of the Town or Parish Council and Ward Councillors. Members will be able to ask officers to provide additional information to be included in the report taken to the next Committee meeting, where stakeholders and the public will have a further opportunity to express their views and be heard before the final decision is taken, by the Committee.
Cabinet Member for Planning, Transportation and the Strategic Environment, Councillor Colin Hunt, said: “These changes simplify the system. Development proposals will be published, and everyone will be able to see the process they will follow.
“We want to be able to make better decisions and to provide better value for money by having those decisions better informed.
“By making the process more visible and transparent, applicants, residents, Town and Parish Councils and other stakeholders will be able to make better submissions – in favour of, or against a proposal – earlier in the process. That means, at whichever level decisions are made, all the of relevant information and the ‘local knowledge’, which is often so critical to informed decision making, but which under current procedures often only emerges late in the day, can be taken into account.”