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Planning in Wiltshire becomes less democratic

July 14, 2011 9:42 PM
By WCLD release

In Tuesday's meeting of Wiltshire Council, Conservative councillors voted to remove a vital democratic control from the local planning process. In future, the public will not know if publicly agreed conditions for new developments will be enforced or not.

Under the new rules, unelected council officers have the power to decide, behind closed doors, that conditions agreed in public at planning committee meetings can be ignored if developers don't like them. Councillors will only be informed after the changes have been made, and the public will have no say at all.

Chris Caswill, Lib Dem Councillor for Chippenham Monkton, said: "We tried to block this shocking decision, but unfortunately the Conservatives outvoted us. This decision allows the vital restraints on new development to be ignored. We were told this is to make the system more efficient, but it won't be more efficient for concerned residents who will find that safeguards they were promised - for example restrictions on noise, building heights, building designs - have been discarded by council officers, with no democratic control or public discussion. This decision may speed up planning but anyone who has been involved in a planning argument will realize just how worrying it is that publicly agreed conditions can now be set aside behind the closed doors of council offices. This decision by the Conservatives will come back to haunt the council before long."

Cllr Howard Marshall, Lib Dem Spokesperson on Environment and Planning, said "This vote effectively bypasses the elected committees that make planning decisions in public with local input. What do Wiltshire's Conservatives think councillors are here for? It's just a matter of time before a decision is made by the committee, agreed on by the public, and then secretly overturned in the office, out of sight of local people. This is a bad idea for planning, and the Conservatives need to rethink the implications of what they've forced through."

Cllr Marshall added that it was not surprising that several Conservative councillors spoke against the proposal, but it was surprising that they then all voted for it, once they were told to do so.