AN MP is to ask the Government to review a council’s planning setup, amid anger over the approval of a £200m housing scheme for a city golf course.
Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for Durham City, spoke out after Durham County Council’s county planning committee backed Banks Property’s proposals for Mount Oswald, off South Road, Durham, on Tuesday.
The MP questioned whether planning decisions should be taken by councillors from outside the affected involved, saying the system had “structural problems”.
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Dr Blackman-Woods pledged to write to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to ask him to consider the council’s decision making process.
The make-up of planning committees has been increasingly questioned since Durham City Council was abolished in 2009.
The county council has a 16-member county planning committee with members from across County Durham to deal with major applications and three 16-member area committees, with eight councillors from the divisions covered and eight from elsewhere.
After Tuesday’s vote, Roger Cornwell, chairman of the City of Durham Trust conservation group, said: “There were a number of councillors from outside Durham who didn’t say anything but then put their hands up and voted it through.
“It seems to be happening more and more. It’s an almost colonialist attitude, in the way the council is exploiting this.”
Dr Douglas Pocock, the Trust’s honorary secretary, added: “(Our reaction is) one of sadness: the clearest example yet that the county knows what is best for the city. The county town without even a parish council to represent it.”
Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning, said the county committee was made up of the most experienced councillors, plus the chairs and vice-chairs of the area committees.
Planning was a complex area and councillors complete mandatory training, he continued.
“I am confident that the committee members who considered the Mount Oswald application judged it on the evidence provided and in light of national legislation and policy and that they made a decision which they believe will add to the economic prosperity of the county,” Mr Timmiss concluded.
Dr Blackman-Woods also plans to call a meeting to discuss possible ways forward following the vote. Details are yet to be announced.
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