AN unpopular change to the planning process in Darlington – which critics claimed was only aimed at making council officers’ lives easier – has been shelved.
Darlington Borough Council had proposed to remove parish councils’ right to see controversial applications on their turf automatically called before the planning committee, rather than being determined behind-closed-doors by officers.
Such has been the opposition to the proposals, that council leader Bill Dixon has suspended the changes to allow for further discussions with parish councils.
Coun Dixon refuted critics’ suggestions that the changes were aimed at making officers’ lives easier, pointing at Government targets to make town halls decide on just ten per cent of planning applications at committee level, with the rest delegated to officials.
He said: “I have written to all parish council chairmen in the borough, telling them that I have suspended the decision, it will not be implemented at this stage and I would like to hear their views.
“What we were proposing was reasonable, but if parishes have got problems with it, then fine.
“I am big enough to say we will take another look at it, suspend implementation and we will come up with a plan B.
“The issue was that if a parish council objects to an application it would automatically go before the planning committee, even if no residents were against it and there was only one parish councillor objecting.
“I went to Hurworth Parish Council earlier this month and told them we would review the decision and I am now happy to suspend it and look again.”
Coun Dixon said council officers currently decide on between 80 and 85 per cent of planning applications, with the rest considered in public by the planning committee.
Councillor Martin Swainston, who represents Hurworth on the borough council, said the changes to the planning process were for officers’ benefit.
He said: “Local democracy is about representing people’s views, not making life easier for council officers.
“It should be about listening to as many people as possible and these plans did not do that.”