Reports from members
Councillor Neil Bloomfield referred to the SCC budget cuts for precautionary gritting and noted this was impacting on several roads in Area North, particularly the road through Tintinhull and Chilthorne Domer. He noted there had been several accidents earlier in the day due to the weather conditions and queried if SSDC could urge SCC to reconsider their decision regarding reduction of the gritting network.
He also referred to dog fouling which was an issue raised at many parish council meetings. For interest, he informed members that Martock Parish Council would be funding a private security firm to undertake evidence gathering patrols to try and catch offenders, which could hopefully lead to prosecutions by the SSDC.
Councillor Bloomfield raised several questions and concerns, and included a request for information regarding the latest position for the percentage of lost appeals, concern that Regulation Committee seemed to be frequently going against the recommendation or wishes of an Area Committee, and concern about the investment in creating the Local Plan.
In response, the Lead Specialist (Planning) responded to points of detail including:
· there was a requirement for the Senior Leadership Team and himself to look at planning performance regarding the number of major appeals that SSDC were losing, which brought a risk of breaching the notional 10% quality performance indicator set out by central government. The authority had been very close to this figure and he noted that since major applications with a resolution of refusal had been referred to the Regulation Committee, there had been a small improvement to the statistics. His recommendation was that the current approach continued, and commented that the risk of exceeding the 10% of the quality performance indicator would raise conversation about designation.
· The performance was measured on a two year cycle, and a new cycle had commenced at the start of the calendar year. Over the last two years the authority had improved performance by 1 - 1½%, but our performance was still a long way off from the national average.
· A number of small improvements were being made to the service, and he hoped over the coming months there would be several initiatives being discussed so that further improvements could be made without undermining the role of the Area Committees.
· Regulation Committee has always stood as the superior committee, and is there to provide the consistency of approach to decision making across South Somerset. Due to our unique system of Area Committees there is a need for consistency.
· All members could attend Regulation Committee to express their views.
· The Constitution laid out how SSDC would perform its planning function, and outside of that there were local and national policies to follow.
· Having a good Local Plan was of great value to South Somerset.
Councillor Dean Ruddle informed members, that similar to Martock, Somerton Town Council now had its own Dog Warden. He informed members that Somerton Library was due to close but a Trust had now been set up and so the library would be continuing as a community led partnership, with considerable funding from the Town Council and support from many volunteers.
He also commented that planning applications sent to parishes no longer detailed the officer’s name, and whilst he acknowledged the reason for this, he commented it was making it difficult for clerks to contact the appropriate person. In response, the Lead Specialist (Planning) explained that some changes had been made to householder applications which were now dealt with in a team environment, but officer names were still detailed for most other applications.
Councillor Gerard Tucker noted that the Clerk to Long Sutton Parish Council would shortly be retiring after 40 years dedicated service. He commented this was a significant milestone and felt it should be acknowledged.
Councillor Tiffany Osborne, referred back to the discussion about planning, and queried when the remodelling changes regarding bringing in ward members sooner in the planning process would happen. In response, the Lead Specialist (Planning) explained that redesign in terms of technology processes would enable the planning process to be more flexible, but it would probably be appropriate to wait until near the elections in May, and to provide members at the start of term with the new ways of working. The idea would be to try and involve members in the pre-app process earlier so that agents and officers were aware of member views, and this could help to increase the rate of delegated decisions. He explained some workshops were likely to be arranged in the near future to gather views of members on the idea.
During a brief discussion, it was suggested more evidence of the funding received from developers through S.106, detailed by ward, would be useful for members, and this was noted. It was also suggested that Councillors with specific concerns and queries regarding planning should arrange a meeting with the Lead Specialist (Planning) to discuss.
The Chairman thanked the Lead Specialist (Planning) for attending the meeting and answering the questions and concerns raised.