Planning Policy

A planning policy for Hoe and Worthing Parish Meeting

Reviewed and adopted on 12th October 2018

Introduction

This document seeks to make explicit the procedure that is adopted in Hoe and Worthing for providing the local planning authority with a response to any planning application on behalf of our parish meeting. It is intended that this document will provide unambiguous guidance for those elected to consider planning applications, those considering taking on that role and planning applicants. As the planning process has the potential to impact on all of our lives however it is hoped that this concise and clear policy document will be of interest and assistance to all parishioners.

Background

The planning authority for the district which includes the villages of Hoe and Worthing is Breckland District Council (Breckland). The policy of Breckland is for the planning system to be efficient, transparent and accountable to all local people and to that end it ensures that parishes, through their representative meetings, are consulted about any planning applications received within their parish boundaries.

Parishes are usually required to respond with any comments regarding planning applications within a period of three weeks of receiving details of it.  As Hoe and Worthing parish only meets twice each year it is impossible with most applications for the full meeting to discuss and respond within that time frame and so a planning committee is elected to investigate, discuss and agree a response to Breckland on behalf of the parish meeting, between its regular meeting dates.

The planning committee is elected by the parish meeting annually at the AGM and comprises eight volunteer parishioners (where possible), with four residing in Hoe and four in Worthing. The mechanism for the committee to consider any planning application is detailed below.  It complies with legislation is designed to incorporate the principles of efficiency, transparency and accountability that underpin Breckland’s planning proceedures and includes safeguards to protect the interests of parishioners whilst avoiding both serious consequences for the parish meeting and bringing it into disrepute. Similar safeguards are adopted by Breckland as well as other councils and representative bodies in the structure of local government throughout the country.

Structure of the planning committee

The parish meeting only elects one planning committee. The committee requires no chairman as any need for it to formally hold a meeting will, in practice, be extremely rare but should a meeting become necessary it will be called by the parish meeting chairman who is responsible for compiling a written response in respect of all planning matters and is accountable directly to the parish meeting.

The only person authorised to represent Hoe and Worthing between meetings, either in writing or in person, is the elected parish meeting chairman who will account for any personal or written representation that he/she makes to the full meeting at the earliest opportunity.

In respect of almost all planning applications the chairman will compile a response based on the written opinions provided by the planning committee members who reside in the village where the application site is situated and consultation with those living close to it; the procedure for doing that is detailed below. Where, very exceptionally, the chairman calls a meeting of all or part of the planning committee or the whole parish meeting to consider an application the following safeguards will apply.

Safeguards

Where the chairman calls any planning meeting it will……..

  • Be advertised on all of the notice boards in Hoe and Worthing at least seven days in advance of the meeting taking place.
  • Be open to all residents of Hoe and Worthing and no other persons.
  • Be minuted.

Where the planning sub-committee members are considering a planning application, whether at a meeting or otherwise, they will…….

  • Declare any interest they may have in the outcome of the matter under consideration which might affect or be perceived as potentially affecting their ability to be impartial. In those circumstances they should withdraw from involvement in considering the application. They must not participate in any debate in that capacity or vote but have the same right to speak or otherwise contribute as any other parishioner. An interest that prejudices impartiality in this way is one where….
  1. Their well-being or finances, those of their family or close associates may be affected
  2. And which a reasonable person with knowledge of the facts would believe likely to harm or impair probity or the public interest.
  • Withdraw temporarily from involvement in the planning committee if they are unable to impartially consider a particular application or the perception has been created that they are unable to approach it with an open mind. This might arise typically where a member has joined a campaign group with a stated view, where statements with a strong bias either for or against development have already been openly published or some personal difficulty exists between the member and applicant. This again would not disqualify the sub-committee member speaking or contributing in the same way as other parishioners.

In addition the planning committee will not

  • Meet with planning applicants to discuss any proposal or seek access to the application site for any purpose. In this way there will be no room for disagreement about what was said at such an un-minuted meeting and applicants will not be unnecessarily pressured or inconvenienced. The overriding principle is that the parish meeting response will be based solely on information contained in the written application received from Breckland and both the application and response will be openly and unambiguously available for public scrutiny.

All applicants will receive a letter informing them of essential information and a written summary of the process that will be followed by the parish meeting in considering a response to their application.

In practice none of these safeguards should present any difficulty whist providing the protections already outlined, maintaining the confidence of all parishioners whilst preserving the credibility of the parish meeting and its reputation for openness and scrupulous fairness.

Considering most applications in practice.

For many years most planning applications were considered by the members of the planning committee passing a hard copy around and each member writing their comments about it on the envelope.  The process followed today for almost every application is an updated version of this which takes advantage of email and that all planning documents are available electronically on Breckland’s website (www.breckland.gov.uk). In short…………

Breckland forward all planning applications for Hoe and Worthing and those that might affect our parishes, via email to our parish chairman. The email contains the address of the application site and a link to bring up the whole application documentation held on Breckland’s website. On receipt the chairman will forward the email to every committee member in the parish where the site is located with a request that they examine the application and submit their views in a return email. If the chairman is not dealing with visiting people living near the site he/she will request that one member of the committee does this in order to ensure that close residents are aware of the application, how to access it and respond to it if they wish. This information is contained in a standardised letter that will be hand delivered and the same information will be included on the parish notice board and website.  A check will be made that the site notice is in place, anything that the residents say for inclusion in the parish meeting response will be noted and the application notice will be included on the parish website (www.hoeandworthing.co.uk)

The email forwarded by the chairman will be addressed to named committee members who will be able to communicate with each other, as well as the chairman, about the matter should that become necessary. In due course each member will email the chairman with their view of the planning proposal. Once all replies are received the chairman will draft a written response, which takes account of what each member and any close neighbours have said, then circulate it to all of the members taking part for comment or approval. Once the document is agreed the chairman will forward it to Breckland as the final response of the parish meeting and it will be published on the parish website.

Again there are safeguards to observe: the person visiting neighbours to the application site will not offer comments about the merits of the proposal or offer guidance of any kind.  This is to avoid the perception of bias, the provision of unqualified advice or bringing about unintended/undesirable outcomes. Any communication between members (and the chairman) about the application should be via email and copied to all members dealing with it. This is because the emails will be a transparent record that takes the place of minutes should the conduct of the committee, in dealing with the application, ever be challenged. It also ensures all committee members are aware of and can join in any conversation about the issue and accords with the principles of efficiency, transparency and accountability.

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Any queries regarding this document should be directed to the chairman. It should be noted that the term ‘chairman’ is gender non-specific and refers to anyone of either gender elected to ‘chair’ the parish meeting.

It should also be noted that in circumstances where the chairman is prevented from taking part in preparing the parish response to a planning application (e.g. through incapacity or declaring an interest) he/she will arrange for a member of the planning committee to stand in for him/her.

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