Lewisham Council is set to approve temporary changes that will make it less likely for planning decisions to go to a committee.
The move means that more decisions will be made in private by a planning officer rather than heard in public at a meeting.
Currently the council’s planning committee must decide on an application if certain thresholds are met, such as three or more valid objections, if there is one or more objections from a residents association, or an objection from a council member.
But the new proposals could see the public objection threshold go from three to ten.
The council is proposing to raise the threshold from three to five objections, but when there are between five and nine objections, the chair of the committee can still decide to refer the decision to a planning officer after reviewing the application.
According to a report on the proposals, the council is making the changes because of a backlog of about 40 planning applications and lack of resources as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The current public health situation has resulted in a reduced capacity within the planning service and planning committee meetings have been unable to take place.
“It is proposed that this be addressed by enabling more straightforward applications to be decided by officers for a temporary period, providing appropriate safeguards are built in, ” the report states.
It also states that “crucially”, the changes “would mean that decisions can be made on planning applications relating to critical major regeneration and housing schemes”.
The full recommendations are:
- Threshold for applications being required to go to planning committee for decision to be raised from three to five
- Any application with an amenity society objection to be subject to case review with chair to determine whether it is referred to planning committee for a decision
- Any application with five to nine objections to be subject to case review with Chair to determine whether it is referred to planning committee for a decision
- Invitations to planning committee meetings and other communications and information (including publication of agendas) relating to planning committee meetings be carried out electronically wherever possible
- Make it explicit that people wishing to speak at planning committee meetings will need to register to speak in advance of the meeting and will need to submit written copies of their speeches in advance of the meeting
- A new online format for local meetings to be developed and implemented
- Make any necessary amendments regarding the publication of agendas and decisions
The temporary changes, once implemented, will be reviewed after three months.
But the council did not deny that they could be made permanent.
A spokesperson said: “We are proposing these temporary changes to how the council processes planning applications in order to deal with the backlog of planning applications, and moving to an online format as face to face meetings cannot be held at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The changes would last for three months, however there is the possibility to extend if needed depending on the national health situation.
“These measures are about ensuring transparency and so residents can see and have their say on planning applications.
“As always individual objections will be taken into account.
“If an application is decided by an officer under delegated powers, it would still be updated on the council website as is usually the case with planning decisions and notifications sent to everyone who has commented.”
The proposals will go to the strategic planning committee on Tuesday (June 9), followed by mayor and cabinet on Wednesday.