Following its spectacular defeat at the hands of councillors over the controversial Northcliff Lodge scheme – the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Planning Department appears to have embarked on a new “get-tough” policy with elected members who have the temerity to challenge its reports.
The majority of planning applications made to the Vale of Glamorgan Council are decided not by councillors in committee, but by the Vale Planning Department’s own “professional officers” on a “delegated” basis.
Vale Councillors have always had the right to “call in” specific applications for consideration, challenge the recommendations of the Planning Department and call for any planning decision to be decided – not by the professionals – but by the full 22-member Planning Committee.
Now however, the basis on which Vale Councillors are to be allowed to “call-in” applications which would otherwise be decided by the council’s own planning officers, appears to be being tightened up.
The revelation came in last week’s meeting of the Penarth Town Council’s planning committee in a discussion of plans to add extensions to a “County Treasure” – the former Victorian Coastguard Tower on Tower Hill, Penarth which is in the Penarth Conservation Area. [PDN Note: Details of this planning application were given in a PDN report earlier this month – see http://tinyurl.com/gsntuj6 ] .
Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward) reminded the Penarth planning committee that it had objected to an earlier application made in 2013 to redevelop this building – but in that case Penarth’s Council’s objections had subsequently been over-ridden and set-aside by a Vale of Glamorgan Council staff planning officer working on a “delegated basis”.
Cllr Williams said that in this case Penarth Council planning committee had been so concerned about its objections being over-ridden, that the matter had been taken up directly with the Head of Planning who had then told Penarth Council there was “nothing he could do” – [ i.e. the “delegated officer’s” decision would stand] .
When the new planning application to add extensions to Tower Hill had been made, Cllr Williams had contacted the Vale Planning Department and asked to have this application formally “called in” – so that, unlike the previous application, it would be considered by the full Vale Planning Committee.
However the Vale Planning Department has now issued Cllr Williams with what appears to be a new “protocol” on “calling-in” planning applications which reads as follows:-
“Where any Member of the Council requires that a particular application shall be determined by the Planning Committee, the application will be referred to the Committee for consideration subject to the Member contacting a senior Planning Officer within 21 days of latest notification date of the application and such request being substantiated by a good planning reason or demonstration that strong local objections had been received and in the case of a difference of opinion between the relevant officer and any Member the matter shall be referred to the Chairman of the Planning Committee for consideration of the Member’s request.”
Cllr Williams – who says it’s the first time in 34 years as a councillor he’s encountered any such a protocol – told the Penarth planning committee ” I find this very,very strange”. He said he found that since “Northcliff Lodge“ [the dramatic overturning of the Vale Council Planning Department’s recommendation to permit the contentious Northcliff Lodge development] there had been what he described as “a vast difference in the attitude of the officers”
Cllr Williams said the Vale Planning Department had now invoked the new “protocol” on 2 planning applications which he had asked to be “called-in”.
Cllr Williams added that he also had “very strong concerns” that the recommendations of Penarth Town Council’s planning committee – which were often “cross-party” – were “not given the right of consideration [by the Vale Council] that they deserve ” . Cllr Williams said “We are the elected officers – who know our patches . We’ve had a couple of recommendations recently which were almost ignored”
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) who is chairman of Penarth Council’s planning committee said “I agree with you” . Cllr Thomas said that under new legislation regarding pre-application consultations Penarth planning committee’s views were becoming “more important”. If the major new application came in now it would have had to come to Penarth Town Council planning committee as a pre-application and the developers would “have to prove they had taken our views into consideration”.
Cllr Thomas said that in relation to the Tower Hill application he understood Cllr Williams had comments from neighbours and he could represent them. Cllr Thomas said “In terms of the development, you are at odds with the planning officer because the officer is minded to allow this” – and that situation was covered by the protocol – “so you have good reasons to call it in”.
Cllr Thomas added that “At some point we need to have a conversation with the Vale about the weight that our comments are being given.”
Cllr Williams said that the implications of the protocol were that if a ward councillor happened to agree with the delegated planning officer, but nevertheless wished to allow local residents to make their objections in person to the Vale planning committee, he would not be able to do so.
The new Vale protocol on “calling in “- said Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) – seemed to suggest that “at some stage ‘officer’s opinion’ may over-ride a councillor’s right to call in an application” . If this was in the Standing Orders of the “Lead Authority” [a.k.a. The Vale of Glamorgan Council] – he would like to see that written down, because it very much affected Penarth Town Council’s planning committee deliberations.
Cllr Neil Thomas asked members whether they wished to request a formal notification of policy from the Vale of Glamorgan Council on the specific issue [ of “calling in” planning applications].
Cllr Thomas said “It’s not for this meeting to determine what is going on in the Vale” – and deferred further discussion on the matter.
THE NEW TOWER HILL PLANNING APPLICATION
Planning Committee chairman Cllr Neil Thomas said on Tower Hill application itself [as detailed in PDN report http://tinyurl.com/gsntuj6%5D that the Penarth Council “had concerns about the previous application – which was smaller than this – I would suggest that for consistency’s stake we maintain our view on that – only more forcefully“ [ i.e. recommend refusal].
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Cornerswell) said that. like Cllr Williams, he would be happy to call in the Tower Hill application – although he was no longer a member of the Vale planning committee.
Cllr Tracey Alexander (Labour Corneers well) said Tower Hill was a “county treasure” . “This is a beautiful structure. Any new design to extend it should be subservient “.
The new application, she said, increased the size of the extension . She said “community input should be a major part of this application”.
Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) said of Tower Hill “We’re fortunate it’s still there.” He said that “preservation bodies under the auspices of Welsh Government have shown an interest in the continued preservation of the structure.”
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said he was “totally against this proposal as it stands”. The Tower was one of the oldest buildings in Penarth – dating back to the 1840s when the Coastguard Service was established . He said the Tower needed to be looked at “in the context of Coastguard Cottages which are a very fine group of dwellings” all of which needed to be looked at as a whole .
Cllr Ernest said that the original Penarth County Treasures Survey which he, Cllr Maureen Kelly-Owen and Cllr Janice Birch had carried out – starting in 1974 – had surveyed the whole of Penarth and identified about 140 “County Treasures” at that time. The Coastguard Tower had been one of the “lead” buildings “and at that time” – Cllr Ernest said ” it was unsullied” . In addition, at the end of the lane, there was the “Rocket House ” where coastguard equipment was kept , the look out tower and the cottages. Cllr Ernest said “It would totally destroy that concept ” if the proposed development went ahead.
Cllr Ernest said the proposed development was out of context, would destroy the ambience of the surrounding buildings and he was against it.
Cllr Martin Turner ( Conservative Plymouth Ward) said the building was a County Treasure – “and I think I understand what that means in terms of the architecture of the building” – but questioned whether the Tower would deteriorate if the development was not carried out and nothing was done. He said “We may not like it architecturally but somebody is prepared to spend some money on maintaining it “.
Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell) queried the logic of Cllr Turner’s remarks. He said “We don’t know the answer – but the logic of what you have just said seems to be predicated on securing the future of this building – which we all agree is elegant and has great value – is actually contingent on nothing more than this development of it.
Cllr Courtney pointed out that “There are of course a number of ways of securing the building which don’t involve this sort of development”.
In the chair, Cllr Neil Thomas wondered if there was scope to consult someone like the preservation body Cadw [ Welsh for “Keep”] . Members agreed to this.
The planning committee also agreed that it will recommend refusal of the proposed development and that Cllrs Clive Williams and Mark Wilson would “call-in” the scheme for consideration by the full Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee.