Parish Affairs column by Peter Bird: To plan or not to plan

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The next item on our council agenda was to be one of the planning committee meetings. Though I had not yet decided which committee I would sit on, I decide to attend this meeting so as to find out what it’s all about, and how I might contribute to planning matters in my parish.

The team assemble round the table, and the chairman facing an opened lap-top computer welcomes us all to the meeting. The parish clerk is also in attendance, having previously prepared the agenda and all the paraphernalia needed to proceed. A computer disc, having been pre-loaded with each of the planning submissions, is placed into the laptop, and presents us with the first of our problems – it can’t be read. So “the march of progress” is holding back the progress of council. Let me explain.

For centuries architectural draftsmen had prepared building plans on large drawing boards, and suitably sized paper, together with typed supporting documents. Then 30 years ago,

computerised drafting came along, filtering its way into industry and later government departments. Traditionally, district council had copied those hand-drawn plans and supporting documents for use at parish council meetings, and latterly the computerised ones too, but this had been an expensive operation, and in these days of vicious cost saving exercises it had been decided that parish council should access the computerised plans when needed for review.

However, without a list of plans needing review, our resourceful secretary had downloaded each of the planning packages on to the aforementioned disc, and as mentioned, they couldn’t be read, so our quick thinking chairman found a way to access district council files, and look at each of the planning packages.

Another problem also presented itself. Traditional plans could be opened out on a table and easily read by the half dozen councillors sitting round them, but their modern presentation on a tiny computer screen makes the task of reading them difficult, so our council has to spend more money on suitable electronic equipment to enable all of the councillors to read the plans at the same time.

I mention these facts to show how at district council level, the decision to save them money has resulted in more cost and operating difficulty of parish level.

Having wasted 20 minutes accessing the plans, we start to review them. Now I should mention here, none of our parish councillors are necessarily technically qualified in planning matters, that’s the job of district council. Ours is to examine each of the applications from a layman’s point of view, asking ourselves, will the proposals affect neighbours, is there enough car parking provided, question technical points, ask if the application is meeting certain requirements such as our conservation area requirements.

From these considerations we formulate our response to district council. Of course, as always, if any of the planning applications has affect on anything each of us has declared in the register of interests, we cannot take part in the review of that application. And for those who believe we councillors can have just about any plans we submit approved without rejection, they are seriously wrong, there are too many individuals involved in the process for anyone to get away with that.

Next month. A pleasure to be a councillor.