Councillors assured reform of the way planning is handled by Fenland Council is on the way

Alan Melton.

Alan Melton. - Credit: Archant

A shake up in planning at Fenland Hall has been agreed to restore the public’s faith that it is working fairly and effectively.

That was the message at today’s meeting of Fenland Council which was told by former cabinet member for planning Councillor Jan French of “inconsistencies in planning applications”.

And she asked council leader Alan Melton to explain what he was going to do to correct that impression.

Cllr Melton said concern from councillors, developers and agents had been raised this week during a meeting with senior council officers. He said the issue was not one of confidence in officers but a case of lack of capacity within the planning department.

“We intend to address this issue” he said and explained that a full investigation would be undertaken by the overview and scrutiny committee.

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It would be “a full report into the way the planning system works in Fenland and we will be looking at other authorities too to see how they do it. The committee will take evidence and take advice from the development industry and local councils”.

He said the review would consider if the planning department had enough staff and he also wanted to find out if Fenland might follow the lead of other councils and charge for pre-application advice.

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“We owe it to our partners in the development industry to ensure we have a clear set of guidelines to work to,” he said.

He was also determined to ensure that once an application had been determined “that’s the end of it. Officers and members will not go back and ask for further information or any conditions. They will be decided at the planning committee.”

Cllr French said a recent approval had further conditions attached by officers “which is an absolute disgrace and that application needs to come back to committee and those conditions removed.”

Cllr Melton said the issue raised by Cllr French “is exactly the sort of thing we will put a stop to.”

Councillor Kit Owen said officers should adopt “a ‘can do’ rather than ‘what the heck can I do to stop this’ attitude”.

The leader promised changes including insisting that callers could speak to any planning officer and not be fobbed off by the excuse that their case officer was either ill or on holiday. He would ensure any officer “can go to a file or computer and get the answer there and then”.

He emphasised it was not or ever had been a case of “bashing officers” but considering the whole scope of planning and its future in Fenland.

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