Views of Southwold are ‘being ignored’ by district planners say councillors
Southwold councillors hit out at the district's planners this week, claiming they ignored local opinion when making decisions on developments in the town.
Town councillor John Windell said he felt 'concerned' after Waveney District Council's recent development control committee meeting, when plans to redevelop the former Royal British Legion (RBL) building in Blackmill Road were given the go-ahead despite strong local opposition.
Mr Windell was speaking at the Southwold Town Council meeting on Tuesday, where his views were echoed by several of his fellow members.
He said local opinion appeared to have been disregarded in a number of planning applications and decisions were sometimes inconsistent.
However, the claims have been dismissed by Waveney, which insists that all consultee responses were fully considered during the planning process.
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The town council is now seeking a meeting with planning heads at Waveney. It also intends to write to Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey and to Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, about what members see as a failure of localism, partly caused by restrictive government policy.
Mr Windell, who spoke against the redevelopment of the RBL building on behalf of the town council at Waveney's development control committee, said: 'I seriously am concerned. When I came home from the development committee the other week I felt like saying to the town council 'Let's withdraw any cooperation with Waveney District Council'. It seems a lot of work is being done by town councillors and we are not being listened to.'
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The town council's planning panel spends up to three hours every week looking at new development plans and visiting application sites and meets for a further hour twice a month to consider proposals.
Mr Windell said: 'I ask people why they haven't commented on a planning application and they say 'What's the point?'.
'For people to tell me they can't be bothered with a waste of time, I don't think it is a good thing for local democracy.'
Mr Windell said the town council's planning panel was also finding it impossible to work out what was suitable in planning terms. He highlighted an application to convert the former Casa Mia piano bar in Ferry Road into a house, which was rejected by Waveney because of a risk of flooding and coastal erosion while an application was approved for a house to be built on the same road.
Sue Allen, who is a district and town councillor, said she had already raised the issue of clarification with Waveney's area chief planning officer Patsy Dobson amid concerns of over-development at the rear of properties in the town's conservation area.
She said: 'What is the difference in not allowing something at the front of a building but allowing it at the back? Victoria Street and East Street are getting lots of little things, What has happened to having a conservation area?'
Deputy mayor Michael Ladd, who sits on Waveney and Suffolk County Council, said the issues were not unique to the area and his colleagues in neighbouring districts had expressed similar planning concerns.
He said he believed local authorities were constrained by policies and regulations passed down from central government, including an edict requiring more than 90pc of planning decisions to be made by officers, rather than councillors on a development control committee.
He added: 'If that doesn't fly in the face of localism I don't know what does. The district council is in a straight jacket. It has to meet that target.'
A Waveney spokesman said responses from all consultees were fully considered as part of the planning process but it was inevitable that a range of views and comments would be received.
He said it was the role of the local planning authority to decide if those views could be regarded as material planning considerations. He added: 'Input from town and parish councils is invaluable and, in the main, the final outcome accords with the views of them. However, it is inevitable that this will not always be the case.
'Dealing with Southwold specifically, decisions on 75pc of planning applications received and decided since January 1 this year have reflected the comment received from the town council. Previous reviews across the district as a whole has shown an average of about 85pc correlation with town and parish council comments received.'