Report of the Executive Director, Growth Planning and Housing
4.1 Councillor Richard Beddoe, Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and Planning, introduced the item. He referred to the fact that upon her election as Leader, Councillor Aiken implemented a comprehensive change to the management of the planning system in Westminster. He referred to the independent review of Westminster’s Development Management service undertaken by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and highlighted that it had concluded that the Council has a robust planning system, however, it is a reactive, development control led service. It also highlighted the fact that whilst the governance and decision making processes are robust, they are not seen as accessible by residents. Councillor Beddoe stated that Westminster City Council needs to be more ambitious and proactive. The review further concluded that there is a need to improve engagement with residents and the wider community in the planning and decision-making process related to development in their area.
4.2 Councillor David Harvey advised that a number of applications in his ward could have been resolved much earlier if there had been more engagement with the community at a much earlier stage.
4.3 Stuart Love, Chief Executive, referred to the fact that the PAS review found no impropriety or failure to follow guidelines and protocols regarding hospitality. However, the practice of accepting hospitality from planning applicants was found to be excessive and unnecessary. Stuart Love made it clear that it was not the case that all officers in the planning service accepted gifts and hospitality. The Chief Executive advised that he had reviewed the guidance on gifts and hospitality together with the Director of Law and found it to be clear and robust.
4.4 The Leader commented that she had taken note of the views submitted by a number of amenity societies in the last few days on the proposed changes. She explained that the purpose of making changes to the management of the planning system in Westminster is to make the process more open and transparent. She considered that residents should have an opportunity to take a more proactive role at an earlier stage in the planning and decision-making process as well as the opportunity to make verbal representations at Planning Applications Sub-Committees. She stated that this will require a significant culture change for staff and those externally who use the planning system. She considered that further work is required to understand how to best implement the new procedures and that views should be sought from all those with a stake in the planning system in Westminster, most notably residents. This was supported by Cabinet.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Endorsed the findings and recommendations of the report submitted by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and agreed to take the following steps to:
a) Improve the openness and transparency of the planning system:
· We will record Planning Sub-Committee meetings and make the coverage available post-meeting;
· We will live stream Planning Sub-Committee meetings once an appropriate technological solution has been identified and sourced;
b) Make it easier for residents to engage ... view the full minutes text for item 4