• EDDC appears to backtrack after planning advice decision

    10th January 2014 | News | Claire
  • See this link and the resolution at minute 53 – http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/council_mins_041213.pdf – which states:  “That the motion be agreed as printed subject to the second paragraph now reading: ‘in particular the Council will implement the guidance that pre-application advice issued should be publically available once an application is lodged.’

    Where do the minutes say anything about a review, as per EDDC’s statement in this article? 

    Full council made a clear decision, which is set out in the minutes… so what is going on?  I have written to EDDC’s chief executive asking for clarity.

    Here’s the link to the Echo story, which is also pasted below – http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Advice-given-developers-East-Devon-District/story-20427300-detail/story.html …………………………. 

    East Devon District Council is conducting a review into whether advice issued to developers before they submit an application should be made public.

    Council chief executive, Mark Williams made the announcement at the full council meeting last month.

    It followed advice from the Information Commissioner on the issue who affirmed that once an application has been submitted, the advice given to the applicant could be published alongside it for the public to view.

    The advice came after new Ottery St Mary town councillor, Jessica Bailey submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner after the council rejected her Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking to see the pre-application advice given to a resident seeking to build houses in the village of West Hill.

    In May, Westcountry Milk director David Crocker submitted a planning application for the demolition and replacement of an existing bungalow with three houses at Elsdon Lane, adjacent to his home.

    Prior to submitting the application, a senior planning officer had told him that his proposed development would have an “unacceptable impact on the existing trees” and described this as a “major factor”.

    Four large oak trees were subsequently felled at the site.

    His application was subsequently refused by the Development Management Committee in November.

    Cllr Bailey claims that the advice given by the council to the prospective applicant could have led to the felling of the trees.

    However Mr Crocker is adamant that his decision to fell four out of eight oak trees on his land had nothing to do with the planning advice issued but was because they were obstructing the light onto the site, effecting the existing homes.

    The council’s planning department ruled that Mr Crocker had not acted unlawfully in felling the trees, which did not have Tree Protection Orders on them and were not in a conservation area.

    After Cllr Bailey’s FOI request to see the pre-application advice was refused by the council, she submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

    Although the commissioner ruled that the council had acted entirely properly, on the back of his advice, the publishing of the pre-application advice relating to the application was subsequently permitted.

    And as a result of the advice, and consideration of the Probity in Planning report produced by the Planning Advisory Service, the council is set to review its procedures regarding if, how and when, pre-application advice could be published in future.

    “It has long been the source of frustration and concern on the part of East Devon residents that discussions which take place behind the scenes between developers and planners at the pre-planning stage have not been revealed when that developer has subsequently submitted a planning application,” said Cllr Bailey.

    In September councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee considered a report which recommended that the council’s current arrangement to keep pre-application advice confidential, for numerous reasons, be maintained unless the Information Commissioner recommended otherwise.

    “It took me eight months to obtain the advice from the council,” continued Cllr Bailey. “But it was worth the battle.

    “The disclosure of pre-application advice should make decision making more transparent and re-assure the public what goes on between planners and developers before a planning application is submitted.”

    The main reason pre-application advice has not been published in the past is because it is generally deemed “commercially sensitive” from a developer’s point of view.

    A district council spokesperson, added: “After investigating the way the council handled the FOI request by Cllr Bailey, the Information Commissioner concluded that it had correctly applied the exception in the regulations concerning disclosure of pre-application advice.

    “He said that the public interest was better served by non-disclosure.

    “He also noted that there is no evidence that the removal of the trees was unlawful and said that residents had still had an opportunity to object to the proposal and to voice their disapproval of the trees being cut down.

    “The review will establish a process to detail how and when pre-application advice will be published in future.

    “Until this happens they will continue to be treated on a case-by-case basis having regard to the Information Commissioner’s decision and the principle of releasing pre-application advice once an application has been received.”