Code of Good Practice for Planning Processes within the Council

Planning Processes for Property

The following, The Code of Good Practice for Planning Processes within the Council (hereafter referred to as “The Code of Good Practice”) complies with guidance issued by the Local Government Association. The Code applies at all times to all members involved in the planning process.

The Code of Good Practice has three main priorities:

1. Good Practice – to ensure that all decisions related to planning are impartial and well established

2. Public Interest – to ensure that all planning processes and, if relevant, subsequent developments are in the interest of the public.

3. Role of Planning Authority Members (hereafter referred to as “the Members”) – To ensure the decision making process is transparent, impartial and reasonable.

The Members’ Code of Conduct and the rules therein must always be adhered to first by the Members.  The guidance within the Code of Good Practice is to be subsequently applied, as its aim is to complement and expound upon the rules of the former.

The Members must note that a failure to comply with the Code of Good Practice may result in legal proceedings against the Council in regards to maladministration of planning decisions, and additionally a complaint being submitted to the Standards Committee.  The member may also be named in reports that are submitted to both the Committee and the Council.

Drawing out a proper plan is vital when building

Drawing out a proper plan is vital when building

Fettering Discretion

The Member must fetter the discretion in the decision making process.  The Member must not make up their mind, or appear to have made up their mind, in voting on a planning issue prior to formal consideration of the submission.  This is also applicable when the Member is sitting on another body outside of the Council.

The Member must consider the planning presentation provided by an officer and consider the evidence that is then given on both sides.

The Member must not speak and/or vote on a matter of application where discretion has been fettered.  It is recommended that in this circumstance the Member withdraw for the vote or related discussions.  Failure to fetter discretion may result in legal proceedings against the Council in regards to maladministration.  The decision then may be considered as having been biased or predetermined.

The Member must note that the need to fetter discretion applies also in situations where the Council itself is the landowner, developer or advocator of the planning application being considered.  There is thus a need to show in this situation that the application is determined upon its merits only to ensure transparency to the public.

The Member must take due care in preparing submissions or advocating a planning proposal on behalf of the following:

  • Any other Council or public authority that the Member sits upon or represents
  • Any other body or organisation that the Member is appointed to as a representative; this includes bodies or organisations that the Member was nominated to by the Council.

In regards to the above mentioned, a disclosure of personal or prejudicial interest should be submitted. [1]

For the purposes of the public record of the meeting, i.e. minutes, the Member should explain the intention as to why they are refraining from speaking or voting on the issue.

The Member must take care to decide where his or her decision making powers should be utilised.

The Member should determine if they have an interest in a particular planning matter by referring to the guidance paper relating to councillors and council officials who serve on outside bodies.

The Member, unless they have a personal or prejudicial interest, will not be considered as fettering discretion [2] if they:

  • Listen to opinions on the planning matter from individuals or locals with an interest in the matter.
  • Comments on the planning matter to residents, relevant officers other Members or interested individuals in order to ascertain background information on the issue.
  • Seeks further information on the matter through suitable means
  • Expresses views or speaks at the meeting as a member of the relevant ward.  The Member though must expressly state that they are stating the opinion of the ward at the start of the meeting and highlight that they still retain their open mind and have not committed to vote in a particular way.
An example of what a finished planning sketch might look like.

An example of what a finished planning sketch might look like.

Conflict of Interests

The Member must at all meetings, including informal meetings and discussions with other Members or officers involved in the planning process, declare interests if they exist and the background is explained.  It is preferable that any such interest be declared at the offset of a meeting which will include discussion or decision making on the matter, as opposed to waiting until the agenda item arises.

The Member if they have a prejudicial interest in a particular planning application or discussion should follow the following guidelines:

The Member must not get involved in any aspect of the planning process relating to the matter in which he or she has the interest.

The Member must not participate in the decision making process on the particular issue of the Planning Authority.  Additionally the Member must not attempt to give the appearance of being involved in the decision making process.  Therefore it is compulsory that the Member depart from the room in which the related discussion, consideration or decision is taking place.

The Member must not attempt to have the matter, or any other matters relating to the planning issue he or she has an interest in, to be represented by another member.

The Member must not use their position as a member and/or representative of the Council to encourage discussions on the matter they have the interest in, with officials.  The Member must not also attempt to obtain information that wold be not otherwise available to general members of the public.  Ultimately, the Member must not attempt to use their position to acquire beneficial treatment which would not be otherwise available to members of the public.

The Member is to recognise that there are greater restraints upon their role within representing a planning issue in which they have an interest in, than there is comparable to those not involved in planning issues.  Whilst a member of the public can attend and represent a planning proposal at a meeting, the Member must conversely withdraw from the room at the time in which the planning issue he or she represents arises within the meeting.  However the Member may explain and justify their proposals in writing to the appropriate planning officer.

The Member must ensure that he or she takes care in representing views in order to convey that improper influence has not been used.

The Member must notify the Monitoring Officer in writing of their planning proposals, both personal and where acting on behalf of another party.  This written notification should be received by the Monitoring Officer prior to the planning application being made.  As due course, the particular planning proposals will then be reported to the Standards Committee.

 

LOBBYING [3]

The Member must not express to any other person, prior to the vote, their voting intention or express any opinions on the merits of the application.

The Member must make it consistently clear to those who are lobbying on behalf of a planning application that they can only listen to the merits of the application.  The Member must not prejudice their impartiality by expressing their own opinion or suggesting or stating what way in which they will vote.

The Member must not accept any gifts or offers of hospitality from those involved in any part of a planning application that is being made.  In situations where it is unavoidable to refuse the hospitality offer, the Member must ensure that the offer is minimal. [4]

The Member must attend all meetings on planning issues and submissions with an open mind and must convey this approach in all meetings.

The Member must show at all times that they serve all members of the community and not just their own particular locality or ward, by ensuring that it is not seen that individuals with planning submissions from their own ward or locality be favoured.

The Member must not join, in any role such as member to lead, any organisation or body which has the primary aim of lobbying to advance or oppose planning proposals; otherwise it will be considered that the Member is acting prejudicially.  If the Member does join a group or society that reflects their interests and that organisation makes a stance on a particular planning application, the Member at this stage must declare a personal interest and make clear to that body or group their position within a planning authority.

The Member must not lobby council colleagues in regards to concerns or opinions on planning applications or, indeed, ascertain or persuade the views of other members.

The Member must not discuss any planning application or proposals and how should vote on this at political group meetings.  The political background of the Member must not influence planning issues.

The Member must inform the Monitoring Officer if they feel they have been subjected to undue lobbying.  This is inclusive of the receipt of gifts and hospitality.  The Monitoring Officer will then inform appropriate officers to deal with the matter.

APPLICANTS, DEVELOPERS AND OBJECTORS

The Member must refer those who approach them for any advice on planning procedure or technical issues to the appropriate officers.

In contact with applicants, developers and objectors, the Member should:

  • Follow the rules on lobbying
  • Make notes on any contact
  • Report significant contact with the applicant to the Head of Planning Control and explain to him or her, the nature of the contact.

In regards to planning presentations given by applicants or developers:

The Member should not attend any planning presentations which have not been organised by, or are attended by, planning officers.

The Member should attend presentations in the knowledge that it is a form of lobbying.  Therefore, the Member must not convey any view on the planning matter or how the Member may vote.

The Member should keep in mind that the presentation does not constitute part of the formal debate.  The Planning Authority will be responsible for this.

The Member should feel free to pose questions in order to seek a deeper understanding of the application.

A chart showing how the planning permission process works

A chart showing how the planning permission process works

Dealing with Officers

The Member must not seek to influence or pressurise an officer to advance a recommendation.  The Member may ask questions or submit opinions to the Head of Planning Services and this may then be placed within the Committee Report.

The Member must remain aware that Officers are within a management structure.  Outside of meetings, the Member must then only approach a Head of Service authorised to refer to the planning matter with Members.

The Member must keep in mind that Officers must act according to the Council’s Code of Conduct for Officers, The Royal Town Planning Institute’s Code of Professional Conduct and related professional codes of conduct in regards to dealing with planning matters.  The views of officers will therefore be presented in accordance with professional independence regardless of whether these are complementary to those of Members.

Decision Making Process

The Member should make decisions in accordance with Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, unless indicated otherwise.

The Member should not vote or participate in a planning discussion unless they have attended the full debate.  The full debate constitutes the introduction to the planning matter by the officer.

The Member should make their decision only when they have fully considered all information that is required.  If the Member feels they have insufficient information or time on which to base their decision upon they should request additional information or time.  If not permitted, the Member should then defer or refuse to vote.

The Member must ensure that if they are advancing a proposal, seconding or advocating a decision that disagrees with the development plan or the advice of officers, they must state the planning details that have led them to come to this decision.  The Member must also be aware that they may have to justify their decision by providing evidence in response to any challenge.  The Member must put forward these reasons prior to the vote and have them recorded.

Public Meetings

The Member must comply at all times with the Council’s guidance in regards to speaking in public.

The Member must not enter into a communication exchange, either in writing or orally, with members of the public during Committee Proceedings as this could be regarded as biasedness.

Site Visits

The Member should seek to attend site visits that are organised by the Council.  The Member is responsible for confirming attendance to the site visit and detailing any special requirements that they may have.

The Member must not express any views or opinions during the site visit.

The Member should never attend a site that is being considered, independently.  This includes if they have been issued with an invitation to attend the site.  Any such proposals to attend a site should be directed to the Head of Planning Control or appropriate official, to ensure compliance with good practice.

The Member should not request a site visit unless:

  • There is difficulty in assessing site factors in the absence of a site visit
  • There are implications in regards to policy or precedence, meaning there is a need for careful consideration of issues at the site.
If the code of conduct is stuck to expect one of these stamps

If the code of conduct is stuck to expect one of these stamps

The Member should use the site visit only to gain further information and see the site itself.  The Member if they seek further information during the site visit should ask officers at the site for such information and only on information relating to the site.

The Member should never attend a site visit by the Committee, if responsible for referring the application to Committee stage.

 

The Member should ensure that all information that is gained during a site visit is relayed back to the Committee, in order to ensure that all members have access to the same information in making their decision.

The Member if approached by the applicant or individual, on the site visit must advise that any queries or representations be directed to the authority and then be directed to the officer that is present at the visit.

 

Training

The Member should not contribute to the planning decision making process at meetings unless they have completed the compulsory training on planning provided by the Council.

In addition, the Member must endeavour to attend training sessions provided on planning.  This will enable the Member to carry out their role effectively by ensuring up to date with knowledge of planning legislation and procedures as well as relevant Codes of Practice and Development Plans.

Protocol

The Member should note that any breach of the Code of Good Practice may reflect a breach of the Council’s Code of Conduct.  Any such breach would then be referred to the Standards Board and may result in disciplinary action against the Member by the Standards Board, Standards Committee of the Council or Adjudication Panel for England.

 

[1] The Member should note that whilst The Members Code of Conduct states that a member may choose to consider that they do not have a prejudicial interest in a matter that relates to such decisions, if this is utilised it could be seen to compromise the fettering of discretion.

[2] According to the Code or the Planning Code of Good Practice

[3] The Member should refer to The Standard Board for England’s Guidance:  “Lobby Groups and dual hatted members and the code of

[4] Where any gift or hospitality offer is accepted by the Member and it is worth £25 or more, the Member must register the receipt of same.