Growing frustration at Suffolk Coastal’s ‘undemocratic’ planning system leads to calls for judicial review

Suffolk Coastal District Council's planning system has been criticised. Picture: RUTH LEACH

Suffolk Coastal District Council's planning system has been criticised. Picture: RUTH LEACH

A Suffolk organisation is considering judicial review to expose what it claims to be a breakdown in the democratic planning process.

Framlingham Residents’ Association (FRAm) fears new systems at Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) could allow major applications for hundreds of homes to be made behind closed doors, with no local input.

SCDC’s “referral process” is said to have streamlined planning – but FRAm claims it has made the system less democratic.

Previously town and parish councils could recommend an application’s refusal and ask for it to go before SCDC’s planning committee. Now, a referral committee must give approval for the planning committee to hear it.

The referral committee’s meetings are held in private – and town and parish councils have only five days to lodge their case.

Mr Sharpe said: “I’m lost for words as to how someone could see this as a democratic way to make a decision.”

He said local views were not being heard – even when they raised important points that case officers overlooked. He gave the recent example of an application to demolish and rebuild the coach house of the White Horse in Framlingham.

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Although the application was recommended for approval, on the basis it was a like for like replacement, Framlingham Town Council showed the new building would be 30% larger. However, its request to be go before the planning committee was refused.

Councillor David Beal said it was “simply wrong” to prioritise the case officer’s submission over the town council’s response. Councillor John Simpson said he was getting “more and more angry” about unelected officers overruling democratic process.

Mr Sharpe said it could apply to other applications – and questioned what could be done. One suggestion was to lodge a judicial review for an application “because then the whole process will be examined”.

An SCDC spokesman said the referral process had “always worked well”.

“This process has previously been upheld as being sound by the planning ombudsman and it will remain in its current form as part of the council’s constitution until a new constitution is adopted,” the spokesman added. SCDC said the White Horse decision followed “full and detailed consideration of the proposal and planning policy”.

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