Councillor claims Northampton planning officers told to ignore safety warnings in case authority has to pay costs

The Guildhall.
The Guildhall.

An opposition councillor has said that the planning committee have previously been told to 'ignore' risks to safety because unsuccessful applications will cost taxpayers money.

Councillor Julie Davenport, (Labour, Delapre & Briar Hill) said planning committee members are routinely advised that, if they reject a project but then developers successfully overturn the decision, the council will be liable the entire cost of the appeal.

She says she is therefore worried about a 'cooling effect' on councillors' decisions, who feel pushed .

It comes after a planning committee meeting discussing a House in Multiple Occupancy (HIMO) in Southampton Road, Far Cotton on Tuesday, July 4, where the committee were advised to overlook potential danger to residents as officers believed the developers would reverse the ruling on appeal.

Councillor Davenport said: "The Highways Authority stated on the application (105 Southampton Road) there is 'severe risk to safety', yet we are told to ignore that [because the council would lose the appeal] as there is a bus route is nearby."

Councillor Davenport said planners have to constantly check with the national Planning Inspectorate what is or isn't likely to be allowed on appeal because each successful challenge is at the taxpayer's expense.

Assistant cabinet member regeneration, enterprise and planning, James Hill (Con, Rectory Farm) said other constraints - aside from the financial cost to the Guildhall - may also play a part, although he added that opposition members repeatedly reviewing planning decisions may also be making things worse:

"An issue officers are worried about is that if we lose too many appeals, the Inspectorate could take away local planning powers, then the council won't have any say at all.

"But some councillors need to be aware that constantly calling in every HIMO by default could result in bad consequences."

A spokesperson for Northampton Borough Council said: “All committee members receive extensive training to ensure that they are able to effectively and impartially scrutinise the matters that come before them.

“As part of the proper planning process, previous appeal decisions are material planning considerations, which should be considered when relevant to an application.

“Officers make recommendations and offer advice as committee members do have a responsibility to factor planning considerations into the decisions they take. However, each committee member is expected to reach an independent and impartial decision on a case by case basis.”