The Committee was reminded that changes to the Scheme of Delegation for Planning Services had been agreed at the Planning Committee meeting on 23 July 2019. These had come into effect on 1 September 2019. At the meeting in July the Committee had also requested that further research be undertaken with regard to the involvement of Conservation Area Advisory Committees (CAACs) in relation to the Scheme of Delegation.
Officers had been asked to investigate the merits and implications for changes to the Scheme of Delegation relating to comments from CAACs in relation to two areas of discussion, namely whether an objection from a CAAC should count as 10 objections; and whether an objection from a CAAC should trigger referral to the relevant Sub-Committee or Planning Committee.
Members were advised that a review of all Surrey and London boroughs and districts had been undertaken to investigate how comments from Conservation Advisory Committees were treated elsewhere and the results were set out in the appendix to the report.
It was noted that there was no statutory duty for the Council to facilitate CAACs, nor was there national guidance on how they should be organised, operated or on the composition of their membership. Although Conservation Area Advisory Committees were set up by the Council, they operated independently, with their primary purpose being to advise the Council. The Council was required to carry out consultation in line with Government guidance and the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement.
The CAACs were consulted on planning applications within the relevant Conservation Areas and their comments were listed under the consultees section of the Planning Officer’s report, thereby giving them more prominence than other representations. An objection from a CAAC did not change the level of delegation for a decision and it was noted that the only exception where an objection triggered a referral to Committee was Claygate Parish Council. The status of Claygate Parish Council representations on planning applications had been reviewed in November 2014 by the Planning Committee and it was concluded that the trigger should remain.
The Committee supported the continuation of existing arrangements in this regard as it was clear when any CAAC comments were received they were included within the consultees section of the report, rather than simply being summarised in the list of other representations received. Arising from a query, the Development Manager confirmed that arrangements could be made to also include reference within reports to when a CAAC advised that it had no comment on a particular application.
The Portfolio Holder for Planning referred to the Constitution Procedures for the CAACs that had been adopted by the Planning Committee on 23 May 1995, and specifically that in respect of the Membership provisions, the current arrangement was that ‘Council Members may either be appointed to serve on the Committee or attend meetings as observers’. The Member concerned was of the view that the Membership criteria should be updated to stipulate the inclusion of at least one sitting Councillor on each CAAC. Members discussed this proposed update and some Members expressed concern as to whether this could result in risks of accusation of a conflict of interest or predetermination of an application through the consideration of it as part of CAAC consultation. Members therefore supported seeking a formal view from the Head of Legal Services as to the benefits/risks of changing the Membership details to include sitting Members. It was agreed that initial consideration of this aspect be undertaken at the Planning Chairs and Vice-Chairs informal meeting, with a report from the Head of Legal Services and the Head of Planning Services being presented to the Committee with any recommendations in due course, as appropriate.
The Committee supported the proposals set out within the report which were designed to improve engagement with the CAACs as consultees, given their valued contribution to the planning process in Elmbridge and in view of the shared desire to ensure the best outcomes for the Borough.
It was therefore
(a) the following actions be implemented in order to improve the engagement between the Council and members of the CAAC:
1. contact between the Council’s Conservation Team, Development Management Team and the CAACs be improved;
2. guidance/training be offered to CAAC members in relation to identifying harm to Conservation Areas and conflict with development plan policies within representations;
3. CAAC objections be reviewed internally with the Conservation Team during the application process and feedback be given to CAAC where comments do not identify harm or conflict with policy;
4. clearer consideration of CAAC comments be provided within officer reports;
5. objections or confirmation of ‘no comment’ from CAACs be clearly referred to within representations;
6. a Planning Users Group be established for bi-annual meetings for non-statutory consultees and interest groups, such as CAACs, to meet with senior officers from Planning Services; and
7. during pre-application discussions, applicants/developers on major/significant applications within Conservation Areas be encouraged to engage with CAACs before making a planning application;
(b) no changes be made to the Scheme of Delegation relating to Conservation Area Advisory Committees; and
(c) the informal Planning Chairs and Vice-Chairs meeting consider the advantages/disadvantages of having a sitting Councillor as part of the Membership of the CAACs, and that any recommendations in this regard be submitted to the Planning Committee by officers in due course.