To participate in a question and answer session about the work of the Leader of the Council, Councillor Dr Virginia Taylor.
Members of the committee partook in a question and answer session with the Leader of the Council, Councillor Taylor:
· Nutrient Neutrality:
The Leader of the Council noted that the catchment area of the River Eden impacted upon the development and planning progress within the district due to its large area of coverage. Further, that the nutrient load impacted upon all planning submissions within the catchment area as these would now require mitigation measures to be present when submitted for planning approval. The burden on planning authorities and developers was therefore considerable. The Council was commissioning a calculator to support developers with this new requirement, including the appointment of an environmental manager to support this work area, as well as partnering with Carlisle City Council.
Members asked the following questions of the Leader on the matter:
1. Why are some authorities (Carlisle and Allerdale) passing planning application subject to nutrient neutrality mitigation being a condition of the approval whereas Eden isn’t?
Response: Each planning authority is responsible for its own statutory local plan. Carlisle is doing this as they feel as it is more useful for development. The legal advice that the Council sought is that there are pitfalls in doing this, in that if approval is granted in principle, there are various things that might change before the issues of nutrient neutrality can be solved, therefore it is more prudent for the developer to do this calculation and provide the mitigation measures, thereby solving the issue of nutrient neutrality along with the application.
2. There is a concern that we are going to be passing on a number of planning applications to the new authority:
Response: This is due to nutrient neutrality, not for any other reason.
3. Are we in discussion with Tyne and Northumberland Council about Alston being in the River Tyne catchment area, as Alston generally has quite a high proportion of planning applications?
Response: whilst Alston is in the River Tyne catchment area, the River Tyne catchment has not been identified as one of the catchments to which the nutrient neutrality rules applies.
4. As long as you provide mitigation then the application should be fine?
Response: If you can do the calculation, then you can do the mitigation. The issue is that there is very little expertise available to determine what mitigation would work in the circumstances, Eden along with other authorities and those in the development industry are struggling with this. The rules were introduced without guidance being in place.
5. The majority of planning applications Eden receives are much smaller than larger developments, will authorities not have to step in to assist with mitigation?
Response: Nutrient neutrality doesn’t apply to every application, it applies to certain types and scales of development, generally to an increase in the amount of people, the types of developments that this would include are for instance, a new residential housing development or overnight accommodation.
6. Conditions on planning consent require them to be met and delivered, if not, the prospect of enforcement arises, has any thought been given to the planning enforcement capacity?
Response: It would be interesting to see how the calculation for mitigation could be done, as there are difficulties in monitoring both the effect of the development and the mitigation.
7. My concern is the mitigation sites, which likely will not be connected to the development sites. Block—buying of mitigation sites to obtain planning approval therefore might be of concern. In Eden, though some smaller developments are connecting the two, so hopefully these will be approved before the Council dissolves.
Response: The Eden statutory local plan is still the local plan for quite some time, even after vesting day. The planning system will similarly continue through vesting day into the new authority.
· Planning and Local Government Reorganisation
The Leader of the Council noted that detailed delivery plans had been drafted. The statutory local plans for Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow would remain as they are. Local Members from those local areas would therefore be on the local planning committees where the planning decisions are made. There would be strategic planning committees and the relationship with the local planning committees would still need to be worked out. In practice, major transport schemes and really significant scale developments (housing, commercial and development) would often go to the strategic committees before going to Council for any formal decision making.
The Leader of the Council noted further that upon vesting day, all of the existing systems and officers carrying out building control, planning policy, and development, would transfer to the new authority and would continue to operate the systems as they do now, and the transition into harmonising those system would be a post-vesting day task.
Members asked the following questions of the Leader:
8. With the planning portion being maintained in Eden, will the capacity remain or will there be redundancies?
Response: On vesting day, the vast majority of staff will transfer over to the new authority and there will not be any reduction in capacity.
9. A large majority of our planning staff at present are consultants, how does that work?
Response: The use of temporary staff/consultants which is pretty extensive across all of the the authorities is being picked up with LGR, operating on the principle that we need to maintain the scale of resources that we currently have into the new authority so that it isn’t left with any gaps. There is a piece of work within LGR focusing on this to ensure that capacity remains.
10. When LGR starts anything that EDC owns will transfer to the new authority, will a parish or town council still be able to have something devolved? Has Penrith Town Council shown any interest in taking over Castle Park?
Response: There is a statement about devolution of assets for the programme. Everything that Eden District Council owns transfers to Westmorland and Furness. Devolution of assets takes time and resources. Westmorland and Furness at present doesn’t have a policy or budget at present, therefore discussions about devotion of assets will have to wait until after vesting day. This was stated by this committees Task and Finish Group work on the subject.
· Council Communications
A member enquired about the agreement to create a Whatsapp group for Councillors. The Leader advised that she would enquire and respond.