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Re-run needed after council jumped gun over changes to planning decisions

PUBLISHED: 16:23 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:23 21 April 2020

City Hall in Norwich. Photo: Nick Butcher.

City Hall in Norwich. Photo: Nick Butcher.

EDP pics © 2007

A decision to change how planning applications in Norwich are determined during the coronavirus pandemic will need to be made again - because the city council unintentionally jumped the gun.

Keith Driver, chairman of Norwich City Council's planning committee. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYKeith Driver, chairman of Norwich City Council's planning committee. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The government has made clear that it wants councils to keep the decision making process over planning applications going during the crisis, to minimise the impact upon the economy.

But that presents problems when it comes to council meetings, which are supposed to be held in public, at a time when people are supposed to be staying at home.

Norwich City Council sought to find a way keep the process going by agreeing temporary changes, at a planning meeting held by teleconference on March 30.

Councillors agreed that all decisions that would normally go before a committee should be referred to committee chair Keith Driver or in the absence of the chair, to vice-chair Marion Maxwell.

They would decide if officers could use delegated powers to decide them, or if they should still go to a committee.

However, that decision was made just before the government introduced legislation stating specific guidelines on how meetings should be held during social distancing - and that meeting had not met those new regulations.

That could have left the council open to a legal challenge.

So, on Thursday, councillors will use Zoom to hold another virtual meeting where they will be asked to make the same decision over delegating powers again.

The report which comes before councillors states that arranging virtual meetings would heap too much strain on the council when staff are working on the council’s response to the pandemic.

Once physical meetings start again, those applications not deemed appropriate to be dealt with by officers under delegated powers will be discussed by the committee.

A council spokeswoman said: “Like so many other essential service providers, we’re living and working through incredibly challenging times, which means we’re continually responding to the changing environment.

“This being the case, we wanted to ensure that the planning process could not be cast in any doubt or open to challenge so we re-convened the meeting.”


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