Suffolk Highways rejects claims it doesn’t carry out site visits for planning comments

Suffolk Highways consultee comments are used to inform planning committees of any issues regarding a

Suffolk Highways consultee comments are used to inform planning committees of any issues regarding access or roads. File picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Suffolk Highways has rebuffed claims that its responses to planning applications are not carried out properly, following concerns over a housing proposal in Eye.

Labour transport spokesman Jack Owen said it was a "disgrace" that Suffolk Highways did not always v

Labour transport spokesman Jack Owen said it was a "disgrace" that Suffolk Highways did not always visit sites. Picture: SUFFOLK LABOUR GROUP - Credit: Archant

Mid Suffolk District Council’s planning committee earlier this month was asked to approve planning permission for 126 homes in Eye, which featured no concerns by Suffolk Highways in its consultee comment.

But committee chairman Matthew Hicks said the proposed access roads were “far from fine” having undertaken a site visit and seen dashcam footage of the route.

It led to claims heard during the meeting that the Highways response was flawed and suggestions that a site visit was not carried out – both of which Suffolk Highways has denied.

“The development management team deal with between 350 and 500 planning applications on a monthly basis, all of which should be responded to within 21 days of receipt,” a spokeswoman said.

“Despite this high demand, officers will visit the majority of planning application sites and do not rely on digital mapping systems alone.

“With regards to Eye, we can confirm that the development officer did carry out a site visit, as did the planning officer from Mid Suffolk District Council.

“Highways officers are responsible for ensuring our responses and decisions are based on factual evidence.

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“Where necessary, we recommend that the planning authority refuse an application, but ultimately, they make the final decision.”

It is understood that at least two of the county’s MPs have written to the department over concerns.

Jack Owen, opposition Labour spokesman for highways, said: “The fact that Suffolk Highways are influencing decisions that are being made with only a cursory glance, or in some cases without being looked at by highways officers, is an absolute disgrace. These decisions can have long term implications and can blight people’s lives.

“Borough and district councils cannot afford to have employees covering areas they are not responsible for and so planning committees are totally reliant on good quality information from the county council Highways team.

“The Highways team are clearly under-resourced, but this cannot be used as an excuse for poor guidance for planning committees.

“Poor decision making will invariably mean a loss of confidence in the planning system and that is something no-one wants.

“Suffolk County Council needs to act now to preserve the integrity of the planning system in Suffolk.”

Explainer: Why correct consultation comments matter

For locals who face the prospect of speculative developers building on their doorstep, they will want to be reassured that all consultees look at planning applications in detail – particularly given the impact new developments can have on a community.

But there is also a key factor hidden within the red tape of planning minutiae that makes correct consultee comments important.

Mid Suffolk’s planning committee was effectively hampered from refusing the planning application for 126 homes on highways grounds because the Suffolk Highways consultation response did not raise issues.

As committee chairman Matthew Hicks (who ironically enough also wears the hat of county council leader when not carrying out Mid Suffolk duties) attested to, the planned access was “far from fine”.

But had the committee refused the application and the developers appealed, the council would have struggled to defend its decision to the Planning Inspectorate because, as leading authority on highways, Suffolk Highways did not raise any problems.

It left them with the only other option available of deferring the application while another highways comment was sought, the subtext being that it wasn’t correct first time around.

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