I can’t say I am happy with this. The fundamental rule on planning is that committee members must consider all the evidence before them and that should be all the available evidence. But a report written for the committee on traffic at the Gaskell Arms Junction was not available until two days after the Southern Planning Committee approved the application for redevelopment of the former power station site at Buildwas. I challenged this but that challenge has now been rejected by the chief monitoring officer who says if councillors had seen the report, they would not have made a different decision.
That’s wrong in my book. It is not for officers to judge what the committee might or might not have done if they had seen the report. Planning committees must weigh the planning balance. They cannot do that if a report commissioned for members is withheld until after decisions are made. It is clear that the legal officer responding had not read the reports but had “been assured” by the officers who pushed the report though committee. This is broken planning.
Andy Boddington to Tim Collard, chief monitoring officer
The Southern Planning Committee made a decision on the Ironbridge application on 20 September. The officers report referred to an updated traffic assessment on the Gaskell Arms Junction.
I had presumed, as I think other committee members must have also, that this related to the 2 July report.
However, on 22 September, two days after the committee decision a report dated 9 September was published.
This report states it was written to inform councillors:
The report had been available since the end of June and had been revised 11 days before the committee meeting. Given that this missing report was not published until Wednesday last week and council was Thursday, I only caught up with this late on Friday.
It is understood that in planning that decision makers must examine all the evidence available for the scheme so that they can correctly assess the planning balance. This report was not made available to councillors or the wider public before the decision.
I am not suggesting that Southern Planning Committee members were misled at their meeting on 20 September. But I am saying that committee members were not sufficiently informed and that best practice in making a planning decision failed in this application.
I think this application should be brought back to the Southern Planning Committee to allow members to consider it again in the light of all the evidence, especially a report that was commissioned for the committee but not made available until after a decision had been made.
Tim Collard to Andy Boddington
I certainly understand the point you are making and it is clearly regrettable that the update regarding the Gaskell Arms Junction was not published prior to the planning committee meeting. However, the question for me is whether the information contained within the update, was so significant that it would be likely to have altered the outcome of the vote or there has been any effect on the ability of objectors to make their case (such that a court would quash the decision on a judicial review). This is clearly a matter of judgement but my assessment, seeking to be as objective as I can, is that the update regarding the Gaskell Arms Junction does not contain any new information that was not in the previous reports or Gemma Lawley’s highways updates to members or in the planning officer report(s) to committee. I appreciate that you and Much Wenlock Town Council may feel aggrieved if you consider that you/they believe you have not had chance to consider all the documents submitted but I have been assured that the update drew together the information already submitted and did not contain any changes to the figures or assumptions that had not already been submitted which relevant parties had previously seen and commented on.
The planning decision will be issued once the required section 106 agreement has been drafted and completed; in the circumstances I do not consider that it is appropriate or necessary to refer the matter back to the planning committee at this time.
I am sure you will be disappointed in this response but at the same time I hope you appreciate that officers can only seek to intervene in legally taken member decisions in very limited circumstances.