Strange developments for Martock
Readers of the November edition of The Leveller® may have seen the article Mums The Word. In that piece we explain how South Somerset District Council had produced incorrect draft minutes of the Regulation Committee held on 17th September.
Following our article and representations by councillors, the minutes have now been updated. Last night (18th September) a new version was posted which acknowledges for the first time the existence of an adjournment of the 17th September meeting to the 19th September. We should thank SSDC’s officers for making that correction.
The meeting that was adjourned to the 19th September was to discuss a planning application for Coat Road, Martock. That planning application had been decided (turned down) by the Regulation Committee on 17th July this year. You might well ask what business the Regulation Committee had in revisiting a planning application that had already been turned down. So let’s take a look at the newly released minutes.
The item is still listed as a confidential item but the minutes now read as follows:
Planning application 19/00064/FUL – Coat Road, Martock
Members resolved to adjourn this item as some members of the committee had been
unable to access all of the necessary papers. It was agreed that the report would be
considered at a re-convened meeting to be held on Thursday 19th September 2019.
Regulation 9 17.09.19
Upon re-convening the meeting at 6pm on 19th September 2019 members discussed and
considered the options in the confidential report, and in particular had regard to the
confidential legal opinion appended to the report.
Members acknowledged that the final decision would be taken by officers under
delegated powers but indicated their view that, whilst it was to be hoped that an appeal
could be avoided, the Council should not look to actively defend the reasons for refusal
in the event that an appeal was submitted.
This is interesting even if it is a shame that it takes the persistence of a local newspaper to get an accurate and complete set of minutes published.
What is happening here is highly unusual. The normal process for a rejected planning application is for the developer to appeal and the appeal to be heard by the Planning Inspectorate.
It sounds as if this is not happening in this case.
Coincidence or not – a new planning application, almost identical in every respect to 19/00064/FUL – Coat Road, Martock has been submitted by developer, Barrett Developments. It has reappeared as 19/02646/OUT and 19/02656/FUL and will be heard before Area North’s Committee next Wednesday 27th November.
But there is a problem. The minute of the meeting above makes it clear that SSDC is minded to put the pressure on councillors to accept a planning application that has already been declined. That certainly smells like pre-determination – something that is not allowed when considering planning applications.
Perhaps it isn’t but it certainly sounds like it and without full details of what was actually discussed, no-one can be sure. Once again SSDC has been ill served by secrecy.
But why has the council not allowed the usual appeals process to take its course? Of course if the council loses it will have costs awarded against it. That is the normal process and yes sometimes expensive.
However it is an important principle that elected councillors are supposed to take planning decisions, not officers of the council.
Yet here it looks as if someone has taken it upon themselves to get legal advice to question a decision taken by elected councillors.
It might not have been an officer of course – but as large chunks of the process are still being kept secret we cannot know one way or the other. If it is an officer, we are bound to ask why? Is it the business of officers to question decisions taken by elected members?
It raises serious questions that go to the heart of who is actually running SSDC.