Council’s planning briefings are unfair and lack transparency
By Cllr Ryan Bate - Planning Spokesperson
Developers have been allowed to give private briefings to members of Warrington Borough Council's planning committee, as highlighted by a recent briefing to councillors over the massive proposed Six56 development near M6 Junction 20. Our Planning Spokesperson, Cllr Ryan Bate says:
I am writing to senior officers at the Council about these briefings. I welcome the principle, but the current process is unfair and lacks transparency. They are officer-led, but the applicants can make representations and field questions from members. I understand these briefings are only open to officers and Committee members.
Meetings about planning applications, supported by documents in the public realm, should be open to public scrutiny. They should be held in public so that concerned members of the public and their representatives can scrutinise the arguments made by the applicant. The Local Government Association's Planning Advisory Service has published a guide, Probity in Planning, which clearly states that developer presentations to committee have the advantage of transparency if held in public. I want to know why the Council does not follow this advice.
By opening these briefings to proper public scrutiny, there can be a greater level of public trust in the planning system. If briefings take place behind closed doors, it makes it more difficult for the public to trust the Council.
Major applications like this one are complex and involve significant social, economic and environmental impacts. It is unfair for the applicant to be given additional time to make the case for the development to members of the Committee. Yet members of the public and their representatives, who are often planning professionals, are limited to three speeches, totalling nine minutes, at the planning meeting. This is not a level playing field but favours the developers. It is unfair.
Three senior planning professionals who I contacted expressed their incredulity that briefings are happening behind closed doors without proper public record. One of them suggested that Warrington Borough Council was confusing its role as an independent planning authority with the role of acting as a development corporation. Changes are needed.