Saturday, 21 February 2015

Planning Meetings: Where to Hold Them, And When?

From time to time I come across  concerns that few local people attend Development Management Control meetings at Central Bedfordshire Council because "it's too far to go".

I'm not really sure if that is a genuine concern, or just an excuse. Public transport between Houghton Regis and CBC's offices at Chicksands are not easy, but it is possible. A journey by car is much easier. If people have real concerns they'll do what it takes to get there if they feel it important to them.

There are usually several applications to be heard from all parts of Central Bedfordshire. Theoretically, it should be possible to have the councillors decide all the applications in towns local to each town affected, but I'm not convinced this would be a practical or a good use of councillors or officers time carting all their maps etc around. 

It might however, be practical and sensible in certain circumstances to have more meetings at localised centres, such as at Watling House in Dunstable for applications affecting Dunstable, Houghton Regis, Toddington and possibly Leighton Buzzard. The meetings might be held in the evening to facilitate attendance by people who work during the day, but this could mean they can go on until very late, and if you happen to be a councillor for say, Sandy, that means a long late night journey home.

The other beef often expressed is that "councillors who don't know an area shouldn't be deciding planning matters that don't affect them". It should be borne in mind that the councillors on that committee are shuttled around Central Bedfordshire to visit application sites prior to their meetings, so they often get access to private land that is not always afforded to the general public, so actually they can be more informed about aspects of the applications than local people. You also need to factor in that they will have built up knowledge of how planning works, what is a planning ground for an objection  and what is not. I would hope that most councillors would want to be seen as consistent in their approach, after all, similar applications requiring decisions may be made in any part of Central Bedfordshire.


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