The National Association of Local Councils has recently promoted the case for Parish Councils to be given a ‘third party’ Right of Appeal in the planning process, both in its manifesto and its new “Devo Local” policy paper. The matter has been identified as a priority for inclusion in a Parish Councils Reform Bill, whilst NALC will also be putting it forward as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill. Additionally, NALC is working with other organisations such as CPRE and Civic Voice to promote the case more widely.
Meantime, a Staffordshire resident has set out the case for a change in planning law in the following terms, having initiated a petition to parliament to address the issue. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/110489
With the government planning up to one million homes in the next five years and the current presumption in favour of sustainable development when a local authority cannot demonstrate a five year land supply, there is a real danger of planning consents being granted improperly. The guidelines on what constitutes a sustainable development are so vague that they can be interpreted according to the subjective views of each individual planning officer. In the recent case of an application in respect of a development that bordered two local authorities, one authority found that the development was not sustainable while the other found that it was. The two authorities took completely opposing views on the sustainability of a single site.
Planning decisions impact communities, landscapes and the environment for generations. Given the amount of discretion that the sustainable criteria confer, these are decisions that should be subject to proper scrutiny. At the moment, third parties have no right of appeal if a planning consent is granted and it seems contrary to the principles of natural justice that there is no mechanism to review the propriety of local authority consents. A general right to appeal might lead to the planning inspectorate being bogged down with frivolous appeals from neighbours and NIMBYs and has previously led to the idea of third party appeals being dismissed out of hand.
I’ve started a petition to ask the government to give parish councils the right to appeal planning decisions. Parish Councils will usually have a detailed understanding of an area and local needs. Most parish councils can be trusted to act in the best interests of their constituents and are usually run by responsible individuals who would be loath to bring frivolous appeals. However, in an era where more and more development is planned, a limited right of third party appeal would ensure that particularly contentious decisions can be reviewed by the Planning Inspectorate, and using the existing parish council infrastructure minimises legislative and operational cost and impact.
If you agree, please sign the petition at this link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/110489
If we get 10,000 signatures, the government must publish an official response to the proposal. At 100,000 signatures, the proposal will get debated in Parliament.
NALC Transparency Fund
A reminder that the multi-million pound ‘transparency fund’ to help small parish councils meet new audit and transparency rules remains open to applications. NALC successfully persuaded the Government to provide financial assistance to smaller sized parish councils to help them become web-enabled and comply with new rules on publishing information about their work and finances; this is an opportunity for councils that have not been able to comply to take advantage of DCLG funding.
The fund is currently open to applications from councils which have a turnover of less than £25,000 per annum to enable them to move to online publishing of financial and other information, ensuring that they are transparent and accountable to their local communities. Applications should be submitted to SPCA by no later than 14th October.
The new rules are contained in the Government’s Transparency Code for smaller authorities, to support the policy of placing more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability. The Code is mandatory and requires the online publication of key spending and governance information on the occasions specified in the Code.
To apply for funding please contact SPCA for a copy of the guidance notes and application form. Those requiring further guidance may find the FAQ document on the NALC website here of help
Filming of Parish Council meetings: the law since August 2014
As reported at the time in the SPCA “Bulletin” (the issues dated 7th August and 14th August 2014 refer) the Government made the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, pursuant to the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, effective from 6th August 2014. The rules were changed to make councils, including parish and town councils, and other local government bodies such as fire and rescue authorities, more transparent and accountable to their local communities.
The key change was that the Regulations conferred on the public the right to film and report, using digital and social media, all those meetings of parish and town councils which are open to the public.
It appears that one or two councils are still under the impression that they can deny members of the general public the right to film proceedings. However, DCLG guidance confirms that the photographing, recording, filming or other reporting of a meeting of the Council and its committees (which includes e.g. using a mobile phone or tablet, recording for a TV/radio broadcast, providing commentary on blogs, web forums, or social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) which enable a person not at the meeting to see, hear or be given commentary about the meeting is permitted unless
- the meeting has resolved to hold all or part of the meeting without the public present, or
- such activities disrupt the proceedings, or
- the following conditions apply:-
- The photographing, recording, filming or other reporting of a child or vulnerable adult at a Council or committee meeting is not permitted unless an adult responsible for them has given permission.
- Oral reporting or commentary about a Council or committee meeting by a person who is present at the meeting is not permitted.
The Association has a model “Media Policy” that councils should consider adopting in order that they can respond accordingly when members of the public choose to exercise their rights under the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014.