South Tyneside Council, as local planning authority, has a legal duty to determine planning applications it receives, from huge transformational developments to home extensions.
Councillors and members of the public can give feedback on planning applications in this process, with applications often determined by council planning officers under ‘delegated powers’.
In the case of major or controversial planning applications, decisions are taken by the council’s Planning Committee, a 16-strong panel made up from elected councillors.
At the panel’s first meeting of the 2022/23 council year on Monday, May 23, it was confirmed that training will be offered to Planning Committee members and all elected councillors.
This aims to focus on the roles and responsibilities, legislation and decision-making involved in the planning process.
Peter Cunningham, operations manager for development management, said some councillors outside the Planning Committee “struggle to understand legal requirements”.
This includes a requirement for the council to determine applications in accordance with local or national planning policy – with the local authority risking costly appeals if it fails to follow the rules.
Councillor Doreen Purvis, chair of the Planning Committee, said the committee had been “a bit laissez-faire” in the past about those raising objections but stressed this would change going forward.
The senior councillor said she would ask any member who has an objection to state the grounds under planning regulations for it.
Cllr Purvis explained: “There will be no more ‘I’ll put my hand up and oppose to play to the gallery or whatever’, it will be if you have an objection we want to hear the grounds and hopefully the training will cover all of that.
“I have been perturbed because there’s a great deal of ‘ignorance’ from the general public about planning.
“I have heard people say that if your residents want this, then you should approve it or if your residents don’t want it, you should oppose it – and that isn’t the way it works.
“We can’t substitute our own taste, you know, ‘I don’t like traditional houses, I want modern stuff therefore I oppose it’, you can’t do that and can’t substitute your own whims or opinions for planning regulations.”
Councillor Wilf Flynn said councillors had an important role in giving feedback on planning applications in their local wards, with members receiving a weekly list.
Councillor Geraldine Kilgour, supporting the training proposals, added all councillors had a responsibility to understand planning policies and how they apply, or don’t apply, in different cases.
Cllr Kilgour told the meeting: “The Planning Committee is integral to everything we do in the borough, as are other committees.
“But I think this is the one where we get the most criticism and I think we need to be better informed in order that we can better inform our communities as to why we can and can’t do things”.
Planning training for all councillors is expected to take place in due course, with council officers currently ironing out the details.
Cllr Purvis, Planning Committee chair, added: “I think we have had quite a good decision on this.
“Hopefully some of the things, the communication sessions, will get over to people, you know, everything you ever wanted to know about planning but were afraid to ask.
“All will become clear and these Planning Committees will run like clockwork because we won’t have any spurious objections.”