Plan for future... Protocol under discussion.
A NEW protocol has been drawn up to reduce the number of times Stockton planning decisions are made against the advice of officers.
A new report reveals that during 2007/08, 24 decisions were made by Stockton Council's planning committee "contrary to officer recommendation".
Of those, 17 were subject to an appeal, and of the 15 appeals determined to date, nine have been allowed by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). "It is to avoid repeating such scenarios and the potential costs involved, that the protocol has been drawn up," said the report, by Neil Schneider, corporate director of development and neighbourhood services.
Concerns were raised recently with the three planning applications for a children's nursery, health centre and nursing home at Blair Avenue, Ingleby Barwick.
All three were refused contrary to officer recommendation and the appeals were all allowed, with the Inspector awarding costs to the appellant. The council now faces a bill of just over pounds 22,500.
Mr Schneider said in the report, which will be considered at today's planning committee, that the support provided to committee members in such cases "needs to be strengthened".
He said: "There are increasing concerns about the number of planning decisions being made contrary to officer recommendation ... and the risk this poses to the authority both in terms of reputation and of potential costs."
The report says members "may consider there are other material considerations" that would lead them to make a decision contrary to that recommended by the head of planning "and that is part of the democratic process and within their legitimate rights to do so".
But Mr Schneider added: "Clearly where a decision does not follow the officers' recommendations the onus is on members to explain their decision."
Under the new protocol, if the planning committee is still minded to approve or refuse the application contrary to officer's recommendation and advice, then senior planning and legal officers will consider whether the reasons are "reasonable, lawful and sustainable".
If it is considered they are, the decision notice will be issued. If not, the corporate director will report back to the next committee and ask members to reconsider.