Council welcomes Planning Committee report and says recommendations will be taken forward
Councillors have welcomed the findings of an independent review of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee, which says members have “a clear understanding of their role” and “good accountability for their decisions”.
The review by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) was commissioned as part of continuing work to further strengthen the South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) Planning Service, which it shares with Cambridge City Council. The findings and recommendations will be discussed at the South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee meeting, 13 January, and will be taken forward.
The report praises the Council for reacting quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic and adopting new guidance, protocols and procedures to enable the Planning Committee to meet virtually. It praises the Committee’s accessibility, saying accessing it is “relatively easy both in its live form and via webcasting”. It adds that the size of the South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee appears to strike the right balance of skills and experience and that “the Council has maintained a good focus on public engagement, especially through maintaining the capacity for public and parish councils to speak at Committee.”
Following the report, a new joint member and officer group has already been established. The group’s role will be to explore the recommendations and where appropriate oversee their implementation. Some changes suggested are already underway, all aiming to help raise standards further while improving trust and confidence between officers and Councillors.
Cllr Richard Williams, Cllr Nick Wright, Cllr Anna Bradnam, Cllr John Batchelor, Cllr Pippa Heylings and Cllr Judith Rippeth have already been appointed to the new cross-party Planning Committee Development Group. South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Head of Transformation, Jeff Membery, will be Chair.
In addition, the review also looked carefully at specific processes – including how Parish Councils can provide feedback and make a request for an application to be decided by South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee. This process is covered by the Council’s Scheme of Delegation. The Report says the current scheme, which was adopted last year, is “a much more transparent model”. As suggested by the report, this scheme will be reviewed this year.
The PAS report endorses existing plans for the service to provide additional training and support to Parish Councils on planning matters to foster closer working relationship and further improve Parish Councils’ knowledge and understanding of the planning process. It is also supportive of the service’s recently refreshed member development programme as a key way of helping members and officers to explore together the wide ranging challenges facing South Cambridgeshire.
South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins, said: “We welcome this report and thank the Planning Advisory Service for their diligent approach which included speaking to Parish Councils directly about their experience of the Committee process. As with all feedback like this, there are elements we can be proud of and things we need to get better at. Councillors and officers will work closely together to translate the recommendations into action. We’ve already started this process by establishing a Planning Committee Development Group and appointing Councillors and officers to it. We are committed to working closely across the Council and with Parish Councils and the PAS report recommendations provide a good platform from which to continue this ongoing journey. Our Shared Planning Service deals with thousands of applications every single year and plays a key role in supporting the economy here. I’m very proud of how our officers have adapted to continue delivering services throughout the last year and remain confident that the further work already planned or underway will ensure that the service we provide in 2021 meets the needs of residents and businesses better than ever before.”
5 January 2021