Letter: Are we witnessing the slow death of democratic planning controls?

In the view of the chair of the Niton and Whitwell Parish Council Planning Committee, democratic planning controls are being eroded on the Isle of Wight and residents’ concerns are not being aired at Planning Committee.


We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers – unsurprisingly they don’t always reflect the views of this publication. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch and of course, your considered comments are welcome below. This from Jon Young, chair, Niton and Whitwell Parish Council Planning Committee. Ed

A worrying pattern is emerging on the Island over the treatment of controversial planning applications by paid officers. Not to put too fine a point on it, I fear we are witnessing the slow death of democratic planning controls.

In at least three recent cases, it seems clear that IWC ward councillors have been denied the right to have the Planning Committee decide on consent or rejection, as a result of the Council’s constitution being interpreted in a way which has not happened in the past.

Democratic process is being undermined
Whether this is as a result of a turf war between elected and unelected officers, or an attempt to save on the costs of committee meetings and avoid the risks of appeals, I do not know. But whatever the explanation, the democratic process is being undermined by plans being nodded through when there are very good reasons not to do so.

In my own parish, approval has recently been given to allow a development of holiday chalets to remain open year-round, removing a restriction which closed the site for ten weeks in the winter. The fear in Niton is that permanent opening will enable non-holiday occupation, for which the site is clearly not suitable; and that the Council lacks the resources and/or the will to enforce holiday-only use.

Relevant material concerns
Our ward councillor, Dave Stewart, raised many relevant concerns, including highway safety, and asked for the application to be “called in”, i.e. decided by committee. This is not a commonly-used procedure, but it is one covered explicitly in an apendix to the Council’s Constitution, which provides for call-in where the ward member raises “relevant and material planning considerations, that cannot be overcome by conditions and/or revised drawings.” It adds: “The head of planning shall determine whether the reason(s) for requesting call-in to planning committee is/are relevant and material to the consideration of the application.”

To the surprise of all of us in Niton, Cllr Stewart’s request was overruled and the application was approved by the head of planning, Mrs Wendy Perera, in late September. The Council’s chosen means of enforcing holiday use was to require the site to maintain a visitors book and make it available for Council inspection.

Island-wide examples
Within a very short time of learning of this decision we heard that the Cowes Costa coffee shop application had been approved, in spite of a call-in request by Cllr Paul Fuller. And, in a third case, Cllr Graham Perks has recently been overruled after trying to get committee scrutiny of a plan to build two substantial properties on a vacant plot in Ventnor.

In all of these cases there can be no doubt that “material considerations” have been raised by objectors, and by the ward councillors trying to represent them. There is a fairly well-defined checklist of material considerations laid down in planning legislation, and they include highway safety, parking considerations, economic impact, and scale/dominance – all of which have been invoked in the three recent examples.

Subjective considerations
It seems clear, therefore, that the planners are relying on the more subjective elements of the Constitution paragraph to deny the councillors’ request. “Relevant” (consideration) is not an easily-definable concept, and its definition is apparently being left in the hands of unelected officials – a logic which, it seems to me, could easily reduce the caseload of the Planning Committee to zero.

Likewise, the caveat that an application need not go to committee if objections can “be overcome by conditions” needs to be (but isn’t being) read in the context of the Council’s extremely poor record of enforcement, which isn’t helped by the present financial constraints but in fact goes back over many years.

Zero chance of enforcement
In the case with which I am most familiar, the Niton holiday chalets, I rate at approximately nil the chances of effective enforcement in the event of a breach of the holiday condition.

This sidelining of local opinion may have been going on for longer than we realised, but it does now seem to me to be systematic. I don’t detect any party-political shenanigans – witness the cross-section of councillors involved – but I do think we need all the Councils’ political groups to give their urgent attention to putting a stop to this creeping erosion of accountability in planning matters. Otherwise, what is the point of committees such as the one I chair, and the time and effort freely given by those who sit on them?

Image: jakerust under CC BY 2.0

Saturday, 17th October, 2015 4:56pm


ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2dAN

Filed under: Island-wide, Isle of Wight Council, Letter to the Editor, Planning

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23 Comments on "Letter: Are we witnessing the slow death of democratic planning controls?"

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Rhos yr Alarch

Even for developments that do go to the Planning Committee the quorum appears to be tiny, and there is seemingly non requirement for ratification by the full Council. Hence Pennyfeathers squeezes through with hardly a whimper…

The Sciolist

If it ‘s true, this would be a good thing. Local councils react emotionally and almost always object to planning applications. They are best left to professionals.

Vix Lowthion
Absolutely agree with this letter. It seems that it doesn’t matter what objections are made, in the situation of current cuts to the council planning department they are allowing most applications to be granted unchallenged by even a simple committee meeting. I await to see what they do with the concerning Red Funnel application to demolish and concrete over industrial units in East Cowes. These currently employ… Read more »
John Nash
A systemic problem is that planning has become almost exclusevely a tick box exercise. Geographical knowledge has been abandoned. Appreciation of landscape is not allowed. If the statutory constraints can be circumvented on paper by the developer then the application WILL be approved. We need to bring back local knowledge, local appreciation and discretion. We also need to eradicate the word NIMBY. If it wasn’t for “nymbies”… Read more »
The Sciolist

It’s the law that protects our natural beauty, not nimbys. Planning is about law and process, that is why it’s best left to experts not local busybody councillor’s, trying to preserve their local status quo.

Vix Lowthion
Rather simplistic. Planning isn’t about change v stagnation. It’s about proposing the best future for the area. About the best route for progress. And this requires engagement with the community and consensus. The planning laws are there as minimums, with an aim to prevent very poor decisions. Experts on planning law shouldn’t be the executive on planning decisions no more than politicians should dictate to professionals (doctors,… Read more »
jon choo
To be fair, when the idiot buggered the old cottage between Castlehaven Caravan site and the haven, Castlehaven, Niton Undercliff, the Council refused permission but the chap built and converted anyway and then he appealed and appealed and appealed and in the end it got planning permission, I hasten to add it was not given by the Council and must have cost the taxpayer a pretty penny.… Read more »
Tanja Rebel

I have heard that negotiations regarding possible Compulsory Purchase of the houses along Dover Road in East-Cowes will be held behind closed doors AND that Compulsory Purchase has been recommended by some officers. Democratic?

Isle of Wight Council, kindly prove your metal by showing us that you are more democratic and thus more transparent than previous Councils.

jon choo

Tanya, democracy doesn’t exist, it is the charade of democracy being played out.

The Red Funnel plan WILL go ahead, The company has a superior right to profit for its shareholders over those rights of men and women ( go ogle ’eminent domain’ ). I know it should not be that way but Society and most of the people within is apathetic in its social conscience.

The Sciolist

You can’t stand in the way of progress. I don’t know enough about the proposal in East Cowes, but as a general rule, if the wider public interest is served by a development, then it should go ahead, not be thwarted by a small minority of residents and anti capitalists like Vix.

Vix Lowthion

What on earth is anti capitalist about supporting East Cowes industrial heritage, 100 jobs in engineering and technology and encouraging people to shop in East Cowes rather than turn the town into a car park for Red Funnel?

Sounds like you need to educate yourself about that planning application.

jon choo

quote “Sounds like you need to educate yourself about that planning application.”
Funny you should write that Vix …….

Noun 1. sciolist – an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge

Vix Lowthion

Ah. I need to pay more attention to people who need to use pseudonyms, then.

jon choo

The Red Funnel plan is not about the Isle of Wight Public interest, it is purely about the profitability of Red Funnel dressed as being for the greater good. Really, they are going to STEAL peoples homes.



The clearest form of ‘anti capitalism’, is capitalism itself, especially in its extractive form, it doesn’t need denouncers as its unravelling continues to ‘progress’.

Quite a poetic, if not utterly destructive, irony.

Mark Francis

So people are likely to buy these chalets & use them as homes?
Nightmare scenario! If they are, like, really cheap, then common people might move in! Next thing you know – Costa coffee being openly sold on village street corners, shady characters vending copies of the Daily Mirror outside the White Lion… there goes the neighbourhood…

Jon Young
Mark, if you know Niton at all you’ll know that it’s not a “posh” village, but a working, caring one. For precicely that reason we fought off the imposition of a Conservation Area in 2013; for precisely that reason we carried out a volunteer-led housing needs survey which identified the need for affordable housing, a goal which we support. The holiday chalets in question are not affordable… Read more »
The Sciolist

I have an honest name! The rest of you cliam expertise that you do not have.

Tanja Rebel
Expertise or not, I claim to have enough experience to be able to question whether “progress” is always progress. Oftentimes it is not for the better from a qualitative perspective and thus it leads to regression. First when Red Funnel’s plans respect the wishes of local residents and businesses as well as improve their environment can it be called true progress. Anything else is not progress, it… Read more »
Rod Manley

Planning is a service we all need in order to protect the environment and root out unscrupulous rogue developers and corporates The Conservative grant cuts are behind the decisions to reduce the Council’s planning department. Local parishes will be faced with very difficult issues if the decision-making and enforcement is not maintained.

What else do we expect after the Conservatives took control of 100% of government after 24% of voters voted for them? Local councils are under siege. They’ve been starved of funds, all so that the richest 1% can get richer while the other 99% of us get poorer. And if local councils can’t afford to have staff, is it any wonder the quality of their work starts… Read more »
Geoff Lumley
On behalf of the Labour Group I have today submitted the following amendment to the Council’s Constitution as it relates to Planning: “The Chair and Vice Chair of Planning Committee together with the elected member for the ward in which the application is located shall determine whether the reason(s) for requesting call-in to planning committee is/are relevant and material to the consideration of the application. They will… Read more »
Jon Young

A very good idea Geoff. I await the response with interest.

– Jon Young, Niton & Whitwell PC Planning chair