PLANNING: System was working well

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gambba-jones ANL-150421-123933001
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Further to councillor Roger Gambba-Jones’ column in last week’s edition of the Guardian explaining that planning decisions can create controversy, this is undoubtedly true.

Mr Gambba-Jones is an extremely effective chairman of the planning committee and a gentleman of considerable ability, but these gifts do not make him infallible.

At the beginning of the year, he was instrumental in removing all residents’ comments and objections from the planning application portal of South Holland District Council’s website.

I considered this a retrograde step from the previous excellent system which exhibited a transparency that the council could be proud of.

Accordingly, I wrote to every member of the planning committee to express my disappointment. I received one reply from Mr Gambba-Jones which was informative, but did nothing to alleviate my disquiet.

Apparently, the reason for the removal was that some residents were making personal and possibly libellous comments about some applicants.

I can quite understand why this is unacceptable and the simple answer would be to offer guidelines on the website stating that any such objections or comments, while being filed, would not be published on the website.

Mr Gambba-Jones indicated that the planning officers did not have time to read and filter out such comments, which is surprising as I thought that it was part of their job to read all comments and objections.

I suggested that many objections would probably not arise if applicants made their immediate neighbours aware of their intentions before submitting their application.

For example, the expedient of a small box to be ticked (or not) on the application form to indicate that immediate neighbours had been made aware of the intended application. This would encourage dialogue and would mitigate many problems.

Of course, there is no legal requirement attached to planning notifications, other than posting a notice near the proposed site and posting a notice in a local newspaper.

But this does not mean it is acceptable not to do more and, fortunately, it is still council policy to write to immediate neighbours with a notice of application.

All comments and objections can be seen at the council offices, but for many people this means a long and unnecessary journey when such a previously efficient service existed and has now been cancelled.

All parish councils within South Holland will miss this valuable service as it gave them an immediate and convenient insight into the thoughts and possible concerns of their parishioners.

Just as disturbing is the removal of parish council comments from the website after a decision is finalised by either the planning officers or the planning committee.

I sincerely hope that this valuable service will be reinstated and that Mr Gambba-Jones, the planning department and all cabinet members think again.

Their seven tenets should take precedence and one of these is transparency. Where there is a will, there is a way.