It’s been almost a year since Powys County Council took the controversial decision to stop publishing third party comments on planning applications.
The Welsh authority called a stop to the practice of publishing comments from local people and stakeholder organisations in December 2018 because it did not want to be found guilty of breaching data protection regulations.
With a review of the decision due to take place next month, Mark Turner, a solicitor in our Town and Country Planning Department, looks at why the council should take action and reverse its decision.
When a planning application is submitted to a local authority ‘third parties’ may provide comment. These include local individuals who may be affected by the scheme, whose comments should be taken into account by planners and councillors when deciding whether to grant or refuse planning permission.
Those submitting comments for consideration will have invested considerable time and effort in researching and drafting their responses. Often they will contain detailed knowledge of local factors and evidence worthy of consideration before a planning decision is made.
The decision by Powys County Council to stop publishing these comments is therefore arguably making the planning process in this area of Wales less open and less transparent as parties interested in a specific planning application are no longer able to freely view these comments without a visit to the Council’s offices, which, given the size of Powys, could be a very long journey for some.
A statement issued by the authority said the decision had been made for “resource reasons” and to “reduce any potential risk of publishing sensitive data”. It says it is under no obligation – in legislation or regulation – to publish third party representations and other authorities in Wales have taken a similar stance.
Whilst the sensitivity of personal data is now a very important issue, it is considered that transparency is key to maintaining trust in planning decisions and therefore publishing ‘third party’ comments should form part and parcel of maintaining an open process.
It is thought that it will be difficult for Powys County Council to maintain its current stance, especially given that it is arguable under the Openness of Local Government Act 2014 local authorities are expected to make all comments available for public inspection, at offices and online.
If you require advice about a planning matter, please contact Mark or a member of the planning team.
Mark specialises in a variety of matters including planning applications, appeals, hearings and inquiries, matters involving heritage assets, compulsory purchase matters and judicial reviews, and section 106 agreements. For further advice, please contact him on the details below.