Several parish councils from across the Cotswolds have expressed concern about a new planning protocol which was implemented by Cotswold District Council in November 2020.
Before the planning rules were changed, any resident or parish council could request (via their elected district councillor representative) that planning decisions were reviewed and assessed by an open and transparent, independent, non-political planning committee.
The planning committee has previously overturned several borderline planning decisions where the harm vs benefit of an application was open to individual interpretation.
However, the current administration at CDC have changed the procedure, and now only applications with “legitimate planning reasons” are allowed to be scrutinised and double checked by this independent committee.
The decision as to what is and is not "legitimate planning reasons" is made by the Chair of the planning committee and a handful of council officers. These decisions take place behind closed doors and no members of the public or other councillors can attend.
This has led to complaints by some councillors who claim the new process lacks transparency and scrutiny.
60% of referrals to be heard by the planning committee are now being blocked by the administration. The new protocol has already resulted in a number of controversial decisions leaving parish councils across the Cotswolds feeling disenfranchised and claiming they have lost their voice.
Cllr Mike Scott, Chair of Quenington Parish Council said,
“There is a clear democratic deficit here. Our District Councillor asked for a recent controversial application to go to the Planning Committee, but his request was refused without discussion. How are we to have any confidence that the right planning process has been followed when everything has happened behind closed doors?”.
Birdlip Parish Councillors are also deeply concerned about the new protocol following a recent request that a delegated authority request be revised.
Cllr Julian Lavington, Chair of Birdlip & Cowley Parish Council said,
“When controversial planning applications are debated in public, it allows residents to watch and participate in the process. Whether we agree with the ultimate outcome or not, at least we felt listened to. I don’t understand how this new system encourages local people to engage with the democratic process! We are being shut out of decisions which affect our day-to-day lives in the heart of our own communities.”
Ebrington Parish Council has also been left frustrated and concerned after a planning application was approved which will restrict the single access road to (and the view of) their Grade I listed church.
Cllr Andy Warren, Chair of Ebrington Parish Council said,
“The harm vs benefit of this application is debatable and open to the specific interpretation of an individual council employee. Previously we would have taken comfort that this decision would be reviewed and debated in public by a committee of elected members. Now we have no right of reply and we feel our objections have been ignored.”