Planning decisions should never be political.
Councillors should leave their party affiliation at the door of the planning committee and vote solely on their understanding of planning policy. However, it’s vital to understand the political landscape of the council if you want to secure planning consent, as there are times when a planning application is completely sound on planning grounds but can be rejected for political reasons. This is evident in unstable councils, particularly those where no single party has overall control. The recent political upheaval in two councils in West Yorkshire shows this only too well.
Recently we saw the Calderdale Conservative and Lib Dems join forces for a vote of no confidence, resulting in the Labour leader being ousted. In Calderdale, Labour has operated as a minority administration with occasional support from the Lib Dems and was perceived by opposition members to be behaving as if they had a majority. Its demise, therefore, was rooted in its failure to properly engage with opposition members on controversial policy decisions.
Less than ten miles away in Kirklees, Labour’s decision makers are likely to be looking nervously over their shoulders at these recent events. Kirklees Council is considering ways of streamlining the planning process: is this perhaps to consolidate Labour’s control and avoid the fate of their Calderdale colleagues?
Kirklees Council currently allows an unlimited number of people to speak for three minutes at its planning committees, but a shake-up may be on the cards with a number of ideas mooted to “better serve the local community.” Plans include a limit to public speakers and the creation of a super committee, but with Calderdale’s Labour administration having learnt the hard way, are we seeing a tactical plot to taper protestation and debate?
This is not a condemnation of Kirklees Council – other councils have far stricter approaches to public speaking. This move toward centralisation could allow the planning committee to gain greater control and save time, but it could be construed as a knee jerk reaction to ensure that they don’t suffer the same fate as their near neighbours in Calderdale.
Ultimately, political leadership can directly affect how members apply planning policy, so knowing the political make-up prior to submitting an application can make all the difference in successfully promoting and securing consent.