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Calls for more democracy in Staffordshire Moorlands planning decisions

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: August 21, 2014

By Leslie Jackson

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CLAIMS have been made that council decisions on controversial planning applications in the Staffordshire Moorlands are by-passing the democratic process.

It comes after several contentious schemes have been decided by a single planning officer, rather than a planning committee made up of elected members.

One district councillor, Linda Malyon, has written to the Post & Times saying she has asked for some applications to go before members, but that her requests have been refused by officers.

Two years ago Moss Feeds of Dilhorne applied for a residential development on its factory site.

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This went to the planning applications committee and was refused. The applicant then appealed, but then a Government planning inspector also threw out the application.

However, similar proposalsfor 10 homes were again submitted this year – and this time the scheme was passed under a planning officer's so-called 'delegated powers' without being put before the authority's planning committee.

Resident James Hall, aged 22, of Godley Lane, Dilhorne, lives near the site.

He said: "After it was refused by the council, and then on appeal, we would have expected any new application to go straight before a committee.

"The last time round, about nine people wrote letters objecting to the plan, and a petition containing 39 names was submitted.

"I simply couldn't believe that an unelected officer had been allowed to rule on such a plan, given the obvious opposition to it.

"It's not as though the plan was much different – the same objections applied.

"I strongly feel our rights as voters, and local residents, have simply been ignored."

In Ipstones the parish council had recommended that a plan to build two houses on the car park at The Linden Tree pub in Froghall Road be refused due to a lack of space on the site and the size of the development.

Because of the concerns the parish council was expecting the plan to go before the district council's planning committee.

But the village authority was stunned when it emerged the application had been passed by an officer under delegated powers.

Just two weeks ago the Post & Times report that the former Inland Revenue office in West Street, Leek had been given approval for apartments and convenience store. This again was decided by delegated powers.

In her letter to the Post & Times, Mrs Malyon said: "I have had to put pen to paper to let my electorate know that I have asked for planning applications to go before the planning committee and officers have rejected my request.

"I am sorry that people did not get the chance to speak for or against applications that should I believe have gone to committee. But that is because there is a lack of democracy."

Jan Adams, who is one of the residents fighting a controversial housing application for the Slimma site in Barngate Street, Leek, said that if anyone is likely to be affected by a planning application it must be put before the planning committee.

She said: "We have just seen on the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council's planning site that the latest Slimma application is to be a delegated decision.

"This is clearly inappropriate for this application, as it ticks all the boxes for going to the committee.

"It is not a minor development. It is not a development which has no significant impact on the public interest, and it has attracted many public objections. I have now put in 10 reasons why this application must be heard by the planning committee. We must be assured that every aspect of an application is considered before a decision is made.

"In my opinion, this can only be done through the planning committee, where there will be local representations, followed by a detailed discussion.

"Local officers must put their trust in the planning committee, otherwise what is the point of a planning committee or democracy."

At last week's meeting of Kingsley Parish Council councillors agreed to write a letter to the planning department outlining their concerns about the issue.

Speaking in a debate regarding the planning department, Councillor David Fowler said: "I am alarmed what is happening. The planning website portal is a mess, applications are being rushed through and too many applications are being decided by delegated powers."

ROBERT Weaver, Head of Regulatory Services at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, said: "In the vast majority of cases, planning applications will be determined under delegated powers – that is to say that planning officers will make the decision.

"This should not in any way be deemed as any less robust or inclusive of local community considerations than an application decided by the planning committee. It is after all, an integral part of the planning professional's job description.

"The council's constitution provides a number of grounds for an application to be put before the planning committee. Furthermore, any councillor can also request an application be called to the committee, submitting the planning reasons as to why they feel the matter should go to planning committee.

"In the event that dispute arises as to whether an application should go before the committee, a panel comprising the chairman of the Planning Applications Committee, the Executive Director (or his representative) and the Legal Services Manager (or her representative) makes the final decision.

"This panel will consider any planning reasons put forward, and whether the planning reasons are justified.

"The final decision as to whether the planning application in question should be heard by the planning committee will rest with the chairman of the planning committee."

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