Here we go again
Last year controversy surrounded the way in which South Somerset District Council decided a planning application for Martock. The plans were submitted, rejected by the Parish, the Area Committee and then SSDC’s Regulation Committee.
Then the plans were resubmitted. The same plans. The same process. Rejection at Parish and Area Committee. But this time the Regulation Committee (controlled by the LibDems) waved them through.
Why? What had changed? Were the public entitled to know the REASON why councillors that had previously rejected the application, now felt able to accept it?
No we were not.
All the advice given to councillors was and still is, secret. So the good folks of Martock are still non the wiser as to why plans for the development were approved.
That process of rejection followed by resubmission is about to happen again.
In February Area East rejected a planning application to build 49 houses in Templecombe. On the 21st April the Regulation Committee also turned it down. This latter was a so called “informal” meeting. Under the current rules, the constitution of SSDC has changed to accommodate the difficulty of meeting during the COVID 19 pandemic. So any informal meeting must go to the Chief Executive Alex Parmley to decide. That is what the changed constitution says.
Mr Parmley did not decide the application. Bizarrely he simply referred it back to the Regulation Committee. Next week (2 June) it is on the agenda once more.
In the first instance this appears to be a breach of the new constitution. If Mr Parmely doesn’t like the decision of the Regulation Committee, he is perfectly entitled to ignore it. He has the power to simply approve the application, no questions asked.
That of course would look anti-democratic. A paid officer overturning a decision of democratically elected councillors.
It is far less clear that he has the power to refer it back to Regulation in place of taking the decision himself. But that is what he has done. No doubt the lawyers will be consulting their books on this ahead of the meeting.
It looks very odd that a Regulation Committee who have already decided the application, should be asked to decide it again. Not only odd, but it begs question of process and legitimacy. One might hope that some of the councillors on the Regulation Committee will raise this.
Remember this is not just the same application. Last year’s two decisions on the Martock application were because a second application, identical to the first, was submitted.
This time it is not even a resubmitted application, it is the self same one. So what this amounts to, in black and white terms, is the committee are being invited in the clearest terms to change their decision.
This frankly, stinks.
SSDC have chosen to be secretive. Again. The Leveller® understands emails have been sent to all committee members advising them of what to do. These emails have not been made public.
Further the Chair of the Committee, Peter Gubbins has made it clear, in writing, that he will not tolerate any discussion on the reason for holding the regulation Committee meeting to discuss the same application a second time.
To say, as he does, that the only matter under discussion is the planning application would be reasonable. In any circumstance except one where the Regulation Committee had ALREADY met to discuss the planning application and nothing else.
Given that all the planning issues were discussed last time, the only matter of substance before the Regulation Committee, as a matter of definition, is the reason for bringing it back for a second decision.
To deny a discussion on those reasons will force the public to draw their own conclusions. We have a powerful combination:
- secret advice,
- a refusal to accept a democratically taken decision,
- a refusal to allow discussion on the reasons for the referral back to Regulation
This may not be corrupt. It may be perfectly reasonable. But SSDC are doing everything within their power to make it look questionable…..