St Albans Tories and Lib Dems at loggerheads over changes to planning applications

There have been changes to the consultation process for planning applications received by St Albans district council.

There have been changes to the consultation process for planning applications received by St Albans district council. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Changes to planning applications aimed at speeding up the process have met with an angry response from St Albans Tories.

Under the previous system, applications to the district council have a 28 day period for public consultation and call-in by councillors, with a further 14 day consultation period should any applications be subsequently amended.

The Lib Dem administration has decided to delete the 14 day period to prevent a risk of exceeding the statutory period for applications, as of the 3,000-plus applications received each year, just a couple are subsequently amended.

In deciding to remove the two week extension, officers advised: “Amendments to applications were by definition minor in nature. More significant changes would require a fresh planning application and thus be subject to the normal call-in process. Members should have confidence in officers’ professional assessment of the significance of proposed changes to applications.”

The issue was raised at July’s Full Council, debated by plans policy committee in September, and agreed by a majority, with only Conservative members voting against. It was confirmed by Cabinet in September and then Full Council.

But the Tory group on the council has condemned the decision for opening a planning loophole by removing the ability of councillors to scrutinise last minute changes to planning applications.

They claimed that introducing a last-minute change can be done by unscrupulous developers to avoid scrutiny on aspects of a development they know will be unpopular with residents.

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Cllr Richard Curthoys, Conservative Group lead for planning said; “This is a sad day for democracy. Key principles of openness and transparency have been overturned. Despite strong Conservative objection, this administration has yet again voted to reduce scrutiny and introduce hidden decision making. This administration has grabbed more power so that a few individuals can make secret decisions that will impact us all.”

Cllr Jamie Day, portfolio holder for planning, responded: “This minor change, on the advice of officers, applies to a small subset of the already small proportion of planning applications that are called in for determination – totalling just two applications last year. It follows an earlier change that increased the period for public comment on planning applications from 21 to 28 days.

“It is a minor change – unlike the previous administration, this one trusts the professional judgement of its planning officers. If Mr Curthoys has any evidence of “secret decisions” he will of course bring it to the attention of the council’s standards committee.”