The LGA's Probity in Planning guidance provides councils with best practice in managing the Planning Committee process. To help you review your own codes of practice we have outlined some of the best practice that we have found across the country. Please note that councils do change their codes on a regular basis or change the location on their website. We will update links as often as we can but please refer directly to the council websites if some of the links do not work for you.
Councillor involvement in pre application advice
Councils have different approaches to involving councillors and the general public in pre application discussions and it is important that this is clear and transparent. Therefore, it is best practice to include the council's approach in Planning Committee protocols.
Councils who cover this area well include
Bracknell Forest - Section 9 of the protocol relates pre application involvement to the NPPF, explains how developers can engage and how councillors can express their views at pre application stage. Section 10 sets out the process for councillors attending exhibitions and presentations.
Cotswold - section 3.4 of the protocol sets out the constraints that councillors are under when being involved in pre application discussions and sets out the need for officer guidance.
Ribble Valley - section 3 of the protocol sets out the importance of impartiality for members of Planning Committee and the need for a clear audit trail.
In addition further best practice can be found on the separate PAS webpages that cover pre applications and PPAs
Personal, prejudicial and pecuniary interests
It is essential that Members of the Planning Committee, as well as anyone else taking part in the meeting such as Planning Officers, are clear whether they have any personal, prejudicial or pecuniary interests in the items being discussed. These interests need to be declared and, if necessary, it might exclude participation in the decision making process. Therefore, it is really important that protocols cover this issue of probity so that Members and officers are clear what action, if any, they need to take.
Most councils cover these interests very well in their codes and the following have particularly good practice.
Plymouth - section 4 of the protocol sets out in detail the differences between a personal, prejudicial and pecuniary interest and sets out clearly what action needs to be taken if a Member considers that they are affected by any of these interests.
Thanet - section 3 of the protocol sets out in great detail the definition of a pecuniary interest and the actions that a Member would need to take if they had a pecuniary interest.
Bracknell Forest - section 4 of the protocol gives a very helpful guide to who might reasonably be defined "Affected Persons".
Pre-determination, pre-disposition and bias
An issue that councillors often find confusing is how to differentiate between someone who is pre-determined, pre-disposed or biased. Whilst a councillor who is pre-disposed to a view can still sit on a Planning Committee, a councillor who is pre-determined cannot take part. Therefore, it is important to understand this difference.
The following councils explain this particularly well
Hastings - paragraphs 22 - 29 of the protocol spell out very clearly and simply the difference between pre-determination, pre-disposition and bias.
Kingston - paragraphs 5.1 - 5.7 of the protocol explains the terms using a practical example and a simple diagram to reinforce the text.
Lobbying of Members
Lobbying of Members of the Planning Committee regularly takes place prior to a meeting as applicants and other interested parties look to persuade the Committee of their point of view. Planning Committee Members are often unsure what to do with the lobbying material that they receive.
The following councils provide particularly good advice to Members
Croydon - paragraphs 6.2 and 6.3 of the protocol give very clear practical advice on what to do when Members are lobbied.
Harrow - paragraph 5.1 of the protocol gives advice to ensure that Members retain impartiality and integrity and are seen to do so.
Tamworth - section 4 of the protocol gives a very detailed explanation for Members on how to respond to various forms of lobbying.
Dealing with petitions
It is often difficult for both officers and Members of the Planning Committee to decide the weight given to a petition against an individual letter of representation. Councils have different approaches to the weight given to petitions and it is important that this is clear and transparent.
This level of detail is often not covered in the codes. However, Hastings gives very clear advice on its approach. Paragraphs 56 - 60 of its protocol set out how both paper and electronic petitions must be lodged and the rights this gives to those who want to speak at Planning Committee.
Receiving gifts or hospitality
Members of the Planning Committee, as well as Planning Officers make decisions that impact on people's lives and can either create wealth for individuals or cause financial hardship. Members of the Planning Committee may, on occasion, be offered hospitality, or even gifts by those who are likely to gain or lose from a planning decision. Councils take a very strict line on such matters and if a councillor or officer is found to be accepting excess hospitality or a significant gift it can result in punitive action.
Councils will guide councillors and officers on responses they should make if offered gifts or hospitality and sometimes explicit reference is made in Planning Committee codes. One the best examples is at Thanet - section 4 of the protocol gives guidance to both Members of the Committee and to officers, outlines monetary thresholds, and provides explicit advice on what action they must take if gifts or hospitality are offered or accepted.
Officer / Member relations
A well managed Planning Committee that makes sound, defendable planning decisions is dependent on Members who understand the Planning and decision making process and officers who can provide the Members with the advice they need to make those decisions. In particular, it relies on mutual respect and trust between the officers and Members of the committee. This respect and trust does not simply happen because it is stated in the codes, but the code will set out a framework on how Members and officers work together.
The following councils are particularly good at explaining this relationship.
Harrow - section 4 of the protocol sets out a very helpful checklist of the Member role and the officer role.
Wolverhampton - section 3 of the protocol provides an alternative, but equally relevant checklist of the Member and officer role.
Trafford - paragraphs 3.8 - 3.10 of the protocol have particularly helpful guidance for officers at Planning Committee.
Ward councillor involvement in Planning process
Whilst only Members of the Planning Committee are charged with making planning decisions the ward councillors are important for the decision making process. Most councils have a referral process whereby ward councillors are able to refer a delegated application to Planning Committee. Also most councils allow a ward councillor to speak at the Committee either as an objector or supporter of a proposal.
Most codes include some reference to ward councillor responsibilities and speaking options at Planning Committee. Plymouth's protocol is a particularly good example of providing clear and comprehensive guidance to ward councillors. Section 8 of the protocol outlines the ward councillor role at both pre application and planning application stage. It also outlines how a ward councillor can refer a planning application to the Planning Committee.
In order that the Planning Committee can make a decision on a planning planning application the Members of the Committee need to understand the proposal in the context of its location and topography. Officers can help Members understand this through plans, maps and photographs, but a site visit is often included to help Members of the Committee familiarise themselves with the site. In some cases the site visit forms part of the formal Planning Committee, but in most cases it will be available to Members if they consider it helpful. It is really important that certain protocols are followed on the site visit to ensure the impartiality of the Planning Committee is maintained.
The following councils show best practice in explaining the role of the site visit in their protocols.
Doncaster - section 4.8 of the protocol sets out in detail the role of the different participants who are attending the site visit and how the attendees should conduct themselves when on the site visit.
East Cambridgeshire - the council has a separate protocol for site visits that covers the process and conduct for the formal site visit. It also advises Members if they wish to carry out their own informal site visit.
North Lincolnshire - the council also has a separate protocol for site visits that explains why they are needed, how they are arranged and procedures that take place on the site visit.
Referral of delegated applications to Planning Committee
Most councils have a councillor referral process to Planning Committee. It is really important that this is explained clearly to councillors so that they can follow the correct procedure and assist their ward residents. Normally there are restrictions in the referral process with regard to timeframes and reasons for referral.
The following councils follow best practice in explaining this procedure in their protocols.
Cotswold - paragraph 2.3 of the protocol explains the procedure in detail and includes a helpful flowchart to help councillors.
Kirklees - paragraphs 11.10 - 11.11 of the protocol set out in detail the procedure to follow for a ward councillor to refer a matter to Planning Committee and helpfully cross references this with the section on material and non material considerations. It also explains the process if a councillor wants to speak as a ward councillor and be a Member on the Planning Committee.
Conducting the meeting
Every Planning Committee follows a similar order of business as recommended though LGA Probity in Planning document. However, each council should be clear about the detail of this so that Members of the Committee can understand and debate a planning proposal and reach a clear, unambiguous decision. Some councils keep this quite flexible whilst others are more prescriptive.
The following councils set out very clearly in their codes how the business should be conducted.
Ards and North Down (Northern Ireland) - the council includes an appendix to its protocol that sets out in the form of a table the order of each planning application item from the officer presentation to the Committee vote.
Arun - paragraph 11.5 of the protocol includes a useful table that sets out the process that needs to be followed for each planning application item including the time for speaking and stage at which the debate commences.
Wiltshire - there is a separate annex to the protocol that outlines in detail the agenda order, meeting procedure, public participation and dealing with questions and petitions
Public speaking at Planning Committees is now a normal practice. However, councils vary in how they allow the public to speak at Committee. Sometimes the Committee will allow Members to ask questions of the speakers and at other Committees speakers are simply allowed to speak for a set time (normally 3 - 5 minutes) and then cannot take any further part in the debate. Whichever option is chosen by the Committee it is important that this is clear and transparent.
The following councils explain their processes well in the protocol.
Hammersmith and Fulham - the council has a separate protocol on public speaking that sets out who can speak, how to register, the length of speaking time and the policy on presentation material
Stafford - the council also has a separate protocol for speaking. It is more in depth than Hammersmith and Fulham and differentiates between Major applications and other applications. It also gives more detail on the conduct that is expected from speakers.
Plymouth - paragraphs 11.9 - 11.14 of the protocol provide detailed guidance on the behaviour expected of speakers and actions the chair can take if s/he considers that the behaviour breaches the code.
Decisions contrary to officer recommendation
The reason why a planning application comes to a Planning Committee is because the council considers that it requires wider public scrutiny and the decision should be made by elected councillors rather than delegated to officers. Therefore, Members of the Planning Committee have the ability to overturn an officer recommendation. However, any contrary decision must be made on sound planning reasons and reasonable in all other respects. An important role of the protocols is to prove guidance on sound decision making.
The following councils provide a good explanation on how decisions can be made contrary to an officer recommendation
Doncaster - paragraphs 8.5 - 8.8 of the protocol set out relevant planning considerations and non material considerations. It also sets out how an alternative motion should be tabled.
Harrow - paragraph 8.6 of the protocol explains how officers need to be given the opportunity to advise Members before a decision contrary to the officer recommended is voted and also the need for Members to be involved in any future appeal.
Ribble Valley - paragraphs 7.6 – 7.8 of the protocol outline a process for deferral if Members are minded to approve contrary to officer recommendation and if the decision is to refuse contrary to officer advice, it sets out the obligations on Members.
It is essential that all Members of the Planning Committee have the necessary training to ensure they are equipped to make sound and reasonable decisions. The LGA recommends that this training is mandatory and the protocol is the appropriate place for this to be explained in detail.
The following councils outlines good practice in training requirements
Croydon - section 11 of the protocol makes it clear that there is mandatory training for all Members of the Committee and substitutes prior to a councillor sitting on Planning Committee. It also encourages Members to attend additional training that is held throughout the year.
Hastings - paragraph 73 of the protocol provides a specific requirement for Members of the Committee to attend an annual review of decisions as part of the training programme.
Stratford - paragraphs 12.1 - 12.4 of the protocol outline in detail the training that will be required for all Members of the Committee including a feedback mechanism whereby Members of the Committee can recommend changes to policy as part of the Local Plan review.
Councillor involvement at appeals
Members of the Planning Committee would not normally be involved in a planning appeal and the appeal will be led by the Planning Officers. However, when a Planning Committee makes a decision contrary to the officer recommendation it will be clear to all concerned that the Planning department and the Planning Committee has a difference in views. This does not mean that officers then discharge their responsibilities on the appeal to Members, but protocols may advise how Members of the Committee should be engaged in the appeal process.
The following councils address this issue well in their protocols.
Kingston - paragraphs 10.1 – 10.4 of the protocol sets out the procedures both when a councillor wishes to attend an appeal and the procedures that are followed when an appeal results from a decision contrary to an officer recommendation.
Trafford - section 13 of the protocol outlines the need for Planning Officers to comply with the RTPI Code of Professional Conduct and the requirements for Members of the Committee to attend appeal hearings / public inquiries on occasion.
Herefordshire - in paragraph 4.8.91 of the protocol the emphasis is put on officers supporting Members of the Committee to defend the appeal.
Reviewing the code of practice
It is a really good idea for councils to regularly review their protocols and involve Members in the review. This is not just to incorporate national legislative changes and guidance, but also to address any issues that arise at Planning Committee meetings that are not addressed through the existing protocol.
Brent outlines its review process in section 14 of its protocol and recommends an independent review every 4 years.