How will decisions on controversial planning applications be made during coronavirus lockdown?

Endeavour House, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Endeavour House, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Planning applications are often some of the most controversial issues debated in local communities across Suffolk.

In Mid Suffolk and Babergh districts, parish councils, local residents, land owners and housing developers regularly disagree over plans for housing estates, new fast food restaurants and even Snoasis.

Decisions on the biggest, most debatable applications are usually made by district council planning committees.

However, since the global outbreak of Covid-19, committee meetings have been cancelled, and the decision to grant permission, or reject some applications has been deferred to council officers.

According to Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils each application which would usually go before a planning committee is being analysed to evaluate the extent to which they differ from policy, are locally controversial or might be eligible for delegation.

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A decision is then made on whether they should be assessed by a single planning officer, or to be put in front of planning committee for debate when it can meet again.

A spokeswoman for Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils said: “In line with advice and guidance issued by the Chief Planning Officer last month, councils are expected to prioritise planning decision making, using innovative approaches as need be, where this will support the local economy.

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“We will continue to work with planning applicants, parish councils and others proactively to agree time extensions for planning decision making in response to the Covid-19 crisis.”

This week, plans to build 34 homes in Elmsett were rejected by a planning officer, who was delegated power to make a decision instead of a planning committee.

The spokeswoman added: “In this instance the scale of the application was the technical reason that would have usually led to it being reported to planning committee. The application was also contrary to the recently made Neighbourhood Development Plan for Elmsett and opposed by the parish council.

“For other applications, including those that are clearly contrary to policy, or locally controversial, officers will consult with councillors on a case by case basis - as to the necessity of applications being reported to planning committee.”

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