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Cross-party councillors reject unelected officers' powers on planning decisions

Thursday 3rd September 2020

BOROUGH councillors last night voted to remove powers of unelected planning officers to refer applications to another committee when they have been refused by elected members.
The move follows a recent wrangle between councillors and Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) officials over the controversial 421 homes application by Bellways Homes at Otham.
Officers pushed for it to be approved but members rejected it after it was referred through several committee stages.
Bellway is appealing the refusal.
Last night's proposal by Conservative Bridge ward member Cllr Jonathan Purle was seconded by Cllr Michelle Hastie of the ruling Liberal Democrats at MBC.
Members of the Democracy and General Purposes Committee unanimously voted to curb the powers of planning officials to refer rejected schemes to other panels in search of a different result. On the committee are four Tories, four Liberal Democrats and one independent.
Cllr Purle said: “The planning system is already fairly stacked against those who want to oppose a development proposal…We aggravate this one-sidedness at MBC by making it more difficult for our planning committee to refuse an application than possibly any other local authority in the area. 
"I don’t think a lot of people realise that the Planning Committee is the only part of the whole planning system where local residents can turn up & speak and have any chance of being listened to.”


Cllr Purle had consulted with Cllr Clive English, chairman of the planning committee, before last night's vote.
Cllr Hastie added: “I think this is very important with the public perception of how planning applications are handled…I would like to see Maidstone working the same way as most other local councils. 
"That means that the initiative with controversial planning applications should always sit with the planning committee because they’re the ones who have to answer to local voters.”
Last night’s proposal removed the power of planning officers to refer matters to the policy and resources committee.
As a constitutional amendment, the decision will be formally approved at a meeting of full council on September 30 2020.