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 with the planning system:
· We will introduce “public speaking rights” at Planning Sub-Committee meetings;
· We will review all our digital content on the planning process and planning decisions, particularly that included on the council’s website to improve accessibility for the general public;
· We will improve the way we explain planning policies and decisions to make them easier to understand.
2. Agreed to support resident and ward Councillor participation at an earlier stage of the process, for example in the pre-application stage of major applications and to adopt a new approach to communicating and engaging their views in proposals. Further details are to be presented to Cabinet following further engagement with stakeholders.
3. Directed the Chief Executive, to present detailed plans to increase delegations and review the call-in procedures, in consultation with ward members as appropriate without the need for escalation to Sub-Committee, thereby speeding up the process. The details of the revised delegation and call-in procedures to be developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders and presented to Cabinet prior to submission to the Planning and City Development Committee for approval.
4. Directed the Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing and the Executive Director of Policy, Performance and Communications to submit a joint report to Cabinet setting out the detailed proposals for the introduction of public speaking rights following stakeholder engagement for approval by the appropriate decision making body, to be determined in consultation with the Director of Law.
(a) Directed the Chief Executive to
restate to both officers and members their responsibilities in
terms of the Council’s gifts and hospitality
policies. This will include emphasising
the importance of exercising sound judgement in dealing with all
offers of gifts and hospitality. Noted that in terms of the
planning service, this will build on the guidance issued in
February 2017 regarding Councillor meetings with developers on particular
(b) Requested that the Chief Executive and Director of Law refine the wording in the paragraph below to reflect that this should apply to elected Members involved in the planning decision making process. The revised text to be referred back to Cabinet at a later date
Council officers and elected members involved in the planning process must retain a distance from land owners, applicants, agents and community stakeholders, other than at formally arranged visits and recorded meetings linked directly and specifically to the consideration of planning applications, pre applications, or the development of the local plan.
6. Agreed to create a new Place-Shaping and Planning directorate which reflects the ambitious agenda set by the Leader and Cabinet to deliver a City for All, and for the new service to deliver the direction of travel which will be set out in the emerging City Plan.
Reason for Decision
1. The Leader and Cabinet have set an ambitious agenda to change how the Council operates in a number of areas, including, but not limited to planning.
2. The direction of travel is to shift away from a largely reactive and development management focused planning service towards a proactive and strategic approach, guided by the Council’s vision and priorities. This will require cultural change throughout the whole system.
3. It will also mean that, should they wish to, residents and others will have the ability to take a clearer and more proactive role in the planning and decision making process related to development in their area. This includes Neighbourhood Forums, Amenity Societies and the general public.
4. Work is ongoing to finalise the City Plan (the Council’s Statutory Local Plan) for public consultation in November 2018. The revised City Plan will be streamlined and place much greater emphasis on positive considerations about the type of development that is appropriate in Westminster. The service which implements this policy framework must therefore also be governed by the same principles.
5. These recommendations are supported by the findings of the PAS report.