Planning decisions in Kirklees set for a shake-up

A shake-up of the way planning decisions are made in Kirklees could be on the cards after Conservatives succeeded in securing a vote on who sits on planning committees.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 7:00 am
A view of Castle Hill in Huddersfield, showing the site of the former Castle Hill Hotel. A new café and interpretation centre is planned for the area

The move comes more than a month after Conservatives called for a change to Kirklees Council’s constitution.

They argued that senior cabinet members, whose portfolios include housing, should not play a part in often contentious planning decisions.

The proposed amendment to remove cabinet members – who are all Labour – from key planning committees was moved to the corporate governance and audit committee for debate.

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The Conservative deputy group leader, Coun John Taylor (Kirkburton), said it was necessary to correct the perception among some members of the public that it was inappropriate for cabinet members to sit on planning.

He said: “Cabinet members sitting on that [planning] committee could appear – and that’s the word; it is about perception – to have a conflict of interest.

“We are 69 members of this council. There are plenty of backbench members who can sit on planning committees without needing members of cabinet.”

He was backed by party colleague Coun Martyn Bolt (Mirfield), who referenced a past decision in which cabinet members signed off a financial deal that was later linked to a planning site.

He also pointed to two specific contentious issues – the vote to approve a café and interpretation centre on Castle Hill in Huddersfield and an application to build houses on a floodplain in Mirfield – both of which involved cabinet members taking what he described as “a strong position”.

He said: “Planning decisions should be independent.”

He also highlighted that “substantial numbers” of planning committee members had not received the appropriate level of training “and yet the decision was said to be sound.

“So there is a public confidence issue here.”

Coun Bolt was challenged by Labour’s Coun Steve Hall (Heckmondwike), who chairs the strategic planning committee.

He said Coun Bolt’s comments on planning training amounted to “a serious accusation”.

He added: “I know for a fact that were two members on a strategic planning committee that had not done training, and they were excluded from the meeting right from the very start.

“Rather than coming in here and giving these accusations, for a change let’s have some proof. There’s absolutely no truth in it whatsoever.”

Committee chair Coun Yusra Hussain (Lab, Batley West) agreed that it was important to take into account public perception but that it was also important to bear in mind that no councillor would make a decision that was “detrimental to their community.

“We are overlooking that point. Everyone in this room recognises that they try to do their best when it comes to their residents whether it be a person, a proposal or a planning development.

“Everything is taken into consideration. There’s a due process [and] a legal process, to go through.

“To say that all members are somehow involved in making pre-determined decisions is slightly unfair.”

Speaking after the meeting Coun Erin Hill (Lab, Crosland Moor and Netherton), who attended in an ex officio capacity, said: “This proposal does not address the issues.

“It is tinkering with the wording of a line in the constitution, when what is really needed is systemic change and progress on the ground.

“We ought to be rightly concerned with public confidence in the planning process, and the fact it is not always easy for members of the public to use or understand.

“But this is a proposal designed to allow the Tory group to claim they speak for the public, while failing to give them the respect of suggesting anything that would be of real benefit or change.”

Members voted to approve it going back to full council on July 14.