The big Harborough planning dilemma...

A recent planning meeting regarding Magna Park near Lutterworth where a huge crowd watched a series of speakers talk about the application.
A recent planning meeting regarding Magna Park near Lutterworth where a huge crowd watched a series of speakers talk about the application.

A series of light industrial units near Great Bowden; work to trees in Lubenham; internal alterations to the pub in Tilton on the Hill.

Just three of 18 planning applications received so far this week by Harborough District Council.

Cllr Chris Holyoak, chairman of the planning committee

Cllr Chris Holyoak, chairman of the planning committee

Any one of them could cause an uproar – and it’s still only Thursday.

The downside of living in a thriving district like Harborough is the constant, shape-shifting, busyness of it, reflected in the weight of planning applications – 30 a week even in a holiday August.

How many should be checked by a council officer? And how many need to be discussed and either approved or rejected by the council’s Planning Committee?

If you think none of this matters that much, then you obviously haven’t been at a packed Planning Committee meeting recently.

In the last year, the Mail has seen an audience of 150 members of the public cheering in delight at a planning decision on Magna Park.

We’ve also seen furious villagers storming out of a controversial planning meeting, shouting “shame on you” and “ how do you sleep?” at district councillors.

And so to the new Harborough District Council planning meeting regulations.

As Cllr Paul Dann (Con) said at a full council meeting last week, the Planning Committee’s long agendas and meetings that last three-and-a-half hours prove that “plannning needs streamlining”.

But Cllr Simon Galton (Lib Dem) argued the new rules “take away public rights... part of the democratic process”.

So what are the new rules?

(1) Instead of an unlimited number of pubic speakers at a Planning Committee, just three speakers for and three against any application will be allowed.

(2) Housing developments under 25 homes don’t now need to go before the committee at all. Before it was 10 homes.

(3) Objectors to these smaller schemes must find a councillor ‘sponsor’ to ask for the scheme to be brought before the Planning Committee. Before, it was simply the number of registered public objections to a scheme that would send it to a council meeting.

(4) The hardworking Planning Committee will also be reduced in number – from 12 councillors to nine.

Neighbouring councils are less generous than Harborough on speakers allowed, but more flexible on what can trigger a scheme being discussed in a public meeting.

For example, Kettering Borough Council generally allows three public speakers in total and Daventry District Council four.

But Kettering says that any parish council or statutory consultee can trigger a plan going to committee. And in Daventry, objection letters from five different households will mean a scheme will be discussed in public.

Magna Park campaigner Maggie Pankhurst said the new Harborough regulations were “completely inappropriate”. “I think it makes the process less democratic and less robust” she said.

Market Harborough Civic Society’s John Tillotson said: “The three people for and three against rule, I think we may have to accept that.

“But the rules on the 25-house limit just won’t do - especially in villages.”

And at Kibworth Parish Council, clerk Stephen Butt said: “I sympathise with the council’s need to streamline the planning process.

“But I feel they have gone too far. I think they need a more flexible and proportionate sort of approach.”