Monday, March 22, 2010

Should the Town Council break the law?

The Eatons Community Centre (ECC) is a wonderful building which is in the wrong place. Behind the Co-op and abutting residential housing the ECC has restrictions on its use in terms of the number of hours and the lateness of those hours. The failure of the specially built pre-school and for the non take up by local groups is leading to a financial crisis.
But this shouldn't mean SNTC should break the law over its use.

I will further point out that Councillors object to retrospective planning applications. These are applications that come in because someone has built or is doing something that needs planning permission and haven't got it. This is exactly what SNTC is doing with the Eatons Community Centre and they need to vary the planning conditions so they can comply with the law.


Past Member said...

The community centre was built there, because that land was given by the builders of the nearby houses for community use in the early ’90’s. Unless SNTC (or HDC) go out buying land, facilities can only be provided on land within their control. The provision of land for a community centre was a condition of the approval of the houses (the residents of which then objected to the building of the same community facility, and I guess, lead to the restriction of hours).

Although most Town Councils (which are only consultative bodies during the planning process) have an understandable unease about retrospective applications, no TC planning committee would be foolish enough to specify it as a reason for refusal. This would constitute prejudging an application, and be both grounds for appeal, and leave the members open to a complaint to the Standards Board.

There is however a world of difference between a retrospective application where a building has been constructed with no planning permission whatsoever, and one that involves a minor modification of conditions of an earlier approval. So far example planning permission might be granted on an off licence with a restriction on trading hours (a restriction imposed to relieve neighbourhood fears of likely public order offences). After a period of trading, the proprietors might submit an application to extend the trading hours when it had been demonstrated that the objectors concerns had not been realised. Clearly it would be better if the application to relieve conditions had not been retrospective, but it’s not the end of the world.

Incidentally, I didn’t comment on your recent blog about why SNTC should bother having a consultative planning committee when HDC are the planning authority. However I think that you should consider whether you feel that the local town councillors have better local knowledge than unelected bureaucrats in Huntingdon. If you feel that ‘Officers always know best’, then you could do away with Cllrs altogether. Mind you, where did the two recent decisions - charging for car parking in the Riverside park, and HDC stopping funding the toilets come from ? Were they member lead (clearly not) or did they originate at Officer level ?

Dave said...

In another setting this building would be good. With the land restrictions, the building should have been a smaller design of a lesser construction.

If Town Councillors are objecting to retrospective planning applications whilst allowing the Town Council to break planning restrictions that is wrong.

Is this the order of the day? The Town Council can break rules whilst ordinary residents are not allowed too.

Unfortunately, the unelected bureaucrats in Huntingdon do have the knowledge to make these decisions. 'Officers always know best' is not one I subscribe too. In the case of planning they do know better than a bunch of Town Councillors sitting around a table. Other consultees such as Fire, Police and Highways have specific knowledge. In non-parished areas they don't have this level of Government and they get on well without this level of planning consultation.

The charging of car parks and the closure of toilets would have gone through the Executive Councillor who should have reported all this to his group. If these go through the Executive member they have the political approval to go forward.

Past Member said...

If Town Councillors are objecting to retrospective planning applications purely on the grounds they are retrospective that is wrong (please embolden)

I’m not defending SNTC, just offering the perspective that it is only a minor transgression, from which no-one has suffered. And they are complying with the law by making an application (whether it is retrospective or not). Quite often these retrospective applications arise when a minor variation of a condition has been inadvertently contravened. Nobody at the time realised that an application to vary conditions was necessary.

I have great respect for your blogging, but think that in this instance you need to obtain the detail of the application, and then we can asses whether it more than a storm in a teacup.

Don’t fully accept that Officers always know best about local planning matters. This is an opinion clearly shared by Planning Inspectors, otherwise every Appeal would reach the same conclusion as the original decision. One of the most interesting means of monitoring the quality of the decision making by your Planning Authority is to examine the Appeal record (percentage won or lost). Mind you, even with FOI, getting this information out of the Authority is a Herculean task.

Who runs the authority ? Officers or members ? The charging of car parks and the closure of toilets would have gone through the Executive Councillor, but is he (or she) just a Yes Man (or women) ? This is a question currently vexing the District Council immediately North of HDC, and has recently lead to the resignation of both the Leader of the Council and departure of the Chief Executive.

Dave said...

I know SNTC are contravening the planning restrictions. SNTC know they are contravening these restrictions. But they continue to do so.

I would never say Officers know best. In planning they do know better. Only because that is their job and they have planning qualifications.

Who runs and authority? The answer is neither. Council Officers have all day to dream up what they want to happen. Councillors normally don't. If Council Officers don't want something to happen all the excuses under the sun can come up. If the Council Officers want the same thing as the Councillors then things happen.

The problem with HDC is the Executive Councillors don't have a strategy to get out of £6.1 million mess they are in.

Anonymous said...

You say you know that SNTC are contraving the planning restrictions. where is your proof

Dave said...

I've published and linked to the planning restrictions on this site a few times. I have the flyer for the event and I made sure the event took place and I stood outside taking pictures and video - how sad of me. I'm well aware of the libel laws. So I tend not to make allegations unless I can back up what I say with evidence. Needless to say I know far more about what goes on than I can actually blog because I cannot always prove what I'm being told.

Anonymous - if you are a Town Councillor check into it with your new Town Clerk.