Cabinet Member: Councillor Dafydd Meurig
To receive the Head of Regulatory Departments report
The Head of Environment Department submitted a report which responded to concerns regarding the delegation procedure in the context of decisions relating to Plas Pistyll. As part of the report, a detailed account of the application's planning history was noted, along with the current and previous Planning Delegation Schemes in Gwynedd. The Cabinet Member noted that he had commissioned a piece of work to gather information that would respond to the local discontent and the lack of understanding of how the decision had been made for the purpose of identifying whether the delegation procedure had been followed properly.
The following initial points were highlighted by an individual Member:
· that substantial modifications and alterations to what had been agreed in 2012 had been done under the delegation procedure.
· a new application should have been submitted in 2016 due to modifications to the size, height and design of the plan
· as the nature of the alterations was more than what was considered reasonable, the decision should have been called into the Planning Committee
· that the site was sensitive and within landscapes that needed to be protected
· that the modifications had angered local residents and members
· Officers were the only ones who could not see the impact
· Who had the right to modify and define what a 'minor impact' was?
In response, the Chair noted that there was no intention to re-open the planning application but there was a need to try to learn lessons from the situation. It was reiterated that the Planning department needed to justify that it was happy with the procedure and that the correct path had been followed and whether the delegation scheme addressed the challenges.
The Monitoring Officer reiterated the constitutional situation for the members and reported that the arrangements had been followed in accordance with the thresholds in the Delegation Scheme that applied at the time. It was noted that the application submitted in 2016 was an application to amend conditions that included reducing the number of units and modifying the design - therefore, the principle of the development was not being considered when determining the application and it did not meet the relevant thresholds for reporting on this type of development to the Planning Committee.
During the ensuing discussion the following observations were highlighted by the Local Member:
· Accepted that the 'technical' procedure had been followed, but in light of the substantial impact of the plan, should 'alarm-bells' have been heard?
· Should the morality of the situation have been considered?
· The Community Council had received a letter referring them to the website which provided information about 'minor alterations' to the application.
· The report was self-righteous.
· Was a threshold such as 'an application that the Head of Environment considers should be referred to Committee', relevant on this occasion?
In response to the observations, the Head of Environment Department noted that he sympathised with all opinions received, the impact on the community and the history of the application. He reiterated that the report referred to the procedure that the officers had followed in order to reach their decision. He noted, unless local messages were shared with officers, that it was not possible to understand the 'feelings' and views of local residents. It was noted that planning was an objective field and so, unless objections were presented, it had to be accepted that the application was acceptable. Members were reminded that the Local Member had the right to submit the application to the Planning Committee if the application was contentious. No objection had been received from the Community Council and so the recommendations and decision of the planning officer were in line with the statutory requirements.
During the ensuing discussion the following points were highlighted by individual Members:
· Accepted that the application approved in 2012 was acceptable
· The alterations / modifications submitted in 2016 were not 'minor modifications'
· Common sense would highlight that the 2016 application was 'substantially different'
· The thought process of some elements of the delegation procedure made no sense.
· What needed to be done was ensure that no further alterations were made to the Plas Pistyll plans.
· A suggestion was made to review the Delegation Scheme so that this did not happen again.
In response to the observations, the Cabinet Member noted that alterations to conditions was in question here and so the application did not meet a definitive threshold. Officers were not responsible for identifying contentious issues / applications. Local members had the ability to do this.
In response to the observations, the Monitoring Officer confirmed that when an applicant would submit an application to modify conditions, the conditions were the only issue determined. It was noted that many relevant thresholds were being considered by planning officers and that they had the responsibility of 'reaching a view'. It was not easy, necessarily, to create the rules of the delegation procedure in respect of this responsibility as there were so many different potential scenarios.
In response to the observations, the Senior Planning and Environment Manager emphasised that the application's planning history was very important to the current situation as planning rights and tourism uses already established on the site offered scope for developers to re-develop the site. He reiterated that bespoke holiday homes, not houses, were being built on the site and that they would be restricted to tourism use. In terms of submitting an application to alter the application's conditions, it was noted that the application had been considered in depth, that details of the plans had been shared, that a period of statutory consultation had been held and that a delegated report had been prepared (as was done with every application). He confirmed that he was comfortable that the application had been dealt with and discussed properly, that the issues had been addressed and assessed correctly, and that the recommendations submitted were robust. He noted that there had been no public objection to the modifications and therefore it was appropriate for the application to be determined under the delegation procedure.
In response to the above observations, the Members noted the following points:
· That the officers had gone beyond what was expected
· That Local Members and Community Councils needed to take a greater responsibility
· Guidelines had to be adhered to
· That there was a need to review / change policies relating to holiday accommodation and holiday homes. Could this be scrutinised? To be discussed at the informal meeting.
· The original plan referred to flats, not individual houses
· There was a need to ensure that information was shared with Community Councils
· That an independent expert was needed to review the Delegation Scheme
· Fundamental alteration / change - difference of opinion / meaning - a clear definition was needed
· Officers needed to evaluate evidence when 'reaching a view'.
The Senior Solicitor noted that ‘minor impact / alteration’ encompassed a wide range of alterations in design and that it was the planning officers' responsibility to weigh up the effects of this.
It was proposed that the Communities Scrutiny Committee recommend receiving independent legal advice from a barrister, of its choice, who specialised in the environmental and constitutional areas.
The Monitoring Officer added that, as the matter was regarding interpreting and implementing the Constitution, objective advice had been presented and the matter need not be taken further. He outlined that the role and responsibility had been placed on him as Monitoring Officer (which the Committee could not delegate or replace) to interpret the Constitution. As regards the scrutiny procedure, how it scrutinised was up to the Scrutiny Committee. However, in terms of commissioning a barrister, there must be clarity about what needs to be commissioned and to what end.
In response to the proposal, the Chair highlighted that the Scrutiny Committee had neither the power nor the direct resources to undertake an inspection, but did have the right to ask the Cabinet Member for the Environment to commission an independent report which would convey a positive message to the public that lessons were being learnt.
It was proposed and seconded to accept the report, but that further information was needed regarding clear definitions of what alterations were.
The Monitoring Officer noted that it was possible to review / adapt the delegation procedure if required, and look further into the specific thresholds by evaluating the information.
An amendment was proposed that a barrister was needed to look at the situation independently.
The Monitoring Officer explained again that it was inappropriate to ask for the advice of a barrister as it was his responsibility to give opinion on the constitutional process.
The amendment to the proposal was not seconded and was not allowed.
A vote was taken on the original proposal. The proposal fell.
The Chair accepted the proposal which was seconded to request a further report on the Delegation Scheme which would consider the basic matters, the thresholds for receiving an application to vary conditions, the thresholds of the delegation scheme to be submitted before the next Committee. It was suggested that the Head of Environment Department, the Cabinet Member for the Environment and the Head of Legal Services provide a joint report which would respond to the Members' observations as well as consider the information and evidence submitted to the Committee.
In response to an observation regarding referring the matter to the Ombudsman, it was noted that complainants alone could take the matter to the ombudsman if a personal unfairness had been experienced (and within an appropriate timeframe). It was repeated that Councillors could not complain about their own Council.
It was proposed and seconded to defer the discussion and to obtain an update to the report at the next meeting for further consideration. A request was made for the report to reflect the concerns of the members, the officers' observations, evidence submitted by Councillor Gruffydd Williams together with the way forward to challenge the relevant policies.
RESOLVED to defer the matter until the meeting of 7 February 2019 and to receive a further report which would address the matters raised in the abovementioned discussion