Farnham Residents councillors have railed against plans by their Lib Dem coalition partners to restrict local decision making in the planning process at Waverley Borough Council.
Lib Dem council leader Paul Follows proposed several amendments to the council’s planning committee structure at last week’s full council meeting – the first since the May 4 elections.
Among the most controversial were proposals to abolish localised planning committees and ban councillors from “participating in the debate nor vote for the determination of any applications in their ward”.
Waverley is under threat of being placed in special measures and having planning powers stripped away by the government, as a result of too many of its planning decisions being overturned at appeal.
Cllr Follows’ amendments are intended to speed up decision making and reduce the number of planning applications being refused for reasons unlikely to stand up at appeal.
However, the sweeping changes were challenged by Farnham Residents councillor Jerry Hyman, who argued they represented “not a minor change but a major change” to Waverley’s constitution and should be considered by the council’s standards board.
The Herald understands senior Farnham Residents councillors are also upset that the proposed amendments were allowed to go to a meeting of the full council before prior scrutiny.
Watched by mayors and civic dignitaries from across Surrey who had gathered for the Waverley mayor making, Cllr Follows hit out at Cllr Hyman, saying: “I think it is ridiculous that we cannot adopt this now – but that is entirely due to Cllr Hyman.”
The newly re-appointed leader did, however, reluctantly agree the council’s standards board should have their say before the amendments are introduced.
He did, though, add the warning: “We are eight planning appeals away from having our planning functions curtailed, and the government’s Planning Advisory Service has suggested we must make our planning decisions more effective.”
Farnham Residents were not the only group to express concerns at the changes.
Independent western commons councillor David Munro said the changes represented a retrograde step that would diminish ward councillors’ role.
And Conservative councillor for The Bourne, Carole Cockburn, said the changes would require councillors to travel far and wide for site visits and read the neighbourhood plans of every town and village to make educated planning decisions.
Cllr Cockburn added tinkering with the planning committee structure was a “futile gesture” and would not solve Waverley’s “huge problems”.