Saturday, 28 July 2012

Rusthall Parish Council update

It is some considerable time since I last commented on the deliberations of Rusthall Parish Council, but publication of the minutes of the April and May meetings on the council's website was delayed.

Meetings of the council are held at Rusthall United Reformed Church, but the minutes persist in calling it Rusthall United Reform Church.

This item from the May minutes caught my attention:

8.  Public Open Session – Mr Huxham voiced his disquiet with regards to the proposed plans for Cranwell flats. He said he was disappointed that not more residents, including him, were notified with regards to the proposed changes.  He felt that the Parish Council should have been more involved with the process. He requested that the Parish Council set up a planning forum.  Cllr Edwards replied, on behalf of the Parish Council.  He explained how a planning forum is set up, The Parish Council are not able to set it up. The residents have to obtain at least twenty five signatures from the public and submit it to the Planning Officer.  He then went on to explain that it was a lengthy procedure that then ended up with no decision but a summary of the issues raised. This should not be taken to express a view or decision. The minutes would then be circulated within five days, to the speakers at the meeting. The planning Officer would still have the final decision at the planning meeting.

The final sentence is correct if one is referring to delegated powers to officers.  However, planning officers do not have the the final decision at the planning meeting if what is being referred to is the planning committee.  A planning application which would normally be decided by officers under delegate powers can be called in, the effect of which is to transfer the decision making to councillors at a planning committee meeting.

I think Mr Huxham makes a valid point that the Parish Council should have been more involved with the process, but I disagree that a planning forum was the appropriate way forward.  The Parish Council may, if its so wishes, make comments on all planning applications in the village.  It could have been pro-active, seeking the views of residents of the Cranwell Road flats.  Some of the issues (decanting of residents) are not planning issues, but the Parish Council could have done more to engage with the housing association on matters of concern to residents and helped residents to articulate their concerns.  After all, parish councils exist inter alia to be a voice for residents.

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