Planning committee chaos over Reading Road development

The Reading Road development application for 70 houses adjacent to John Morgan Close was “considered” again this evening by Hart’s Planning Committee. The reason it was back before the planning committee for the third time was that the Full Council Meeting at the end of March resolved:

That Planning Committee be requested to give further consideration to the policy issues raised by the application, and to report back to the next meeting of Council with their conclusions.

The very first statement on the item this evening from a councillor, who had been present at the Full Council meeting referring this back, was “I am confused, the planning committee is not allowed to consider and form policy”. There then followed many attempts to work out what on earth the planning committee could do to carry out the task that Full Council had passed on to the Planning Committee. They failed. Eventually the Planning Committee gave up on that and instead resolved to approve the planning application (something they were not being asked to do this evening since they had already made their recommendation in February) with an informative comment to Full Council that policy matters needed to be considered in some other way, either by Full Council or a policy making subcommittee.

This matter now has to go back before Full Council for a third time, because it is still a departure from policy to build houses on this site which has not been designated for housing. As per the Hart planning delegation policy, in such instances “If the Planning Committee is then minded to grant planning permission under the Council’s Constitution the Planning Committee has to refer the application to Full Council for determination“.

The first time this application went before Full Council for this supposed oversight, it was withdrawn due to a drafting error, but (as happened with High Ridge Farm/Brown Croft) it is clear that it otherwise would have passed without any actual attempt to actively “determine” the application. The second time, it was called-in for debate and resulted in the (invalid) resolution described above, to have the Planning Committee consider the policy implications. On this third presentation it would need to be “called-in” for debate once again to avoid it just being rubber stamped. At no stage has Full Council actually carried out the duty in it’s constitution to determine the application because it is outside of policy. It remains to be seen whether it will obtain the five signatures from councillors required for Full Council to undertake the responsibilities as described in the constitution or whether it will be approved by default.