Planning big changes for committee

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THE way in which Fife Council determines planning applications could be completely transformed.

The local authority is reviewing its review with the aim, it says, to ensure appropriate devolution of decisions to meet local needs and improve the planning authority’s contribution to tackling the economic difficulties and housing shortages.

Currently, applications are scrutinised by the seven area committees - depending on location - or by the Fife wide planning committee.

Councillors are now being asked to consider one of four options - to have one, two or three planning committees or to maintain the status quo.

Reports have already been to the area committees and the planning committee was the last to vote on it when it met last Thursday.

Councillor John Beare, SNP planning spokesman, said the current system works “very well”.

He said: “The set-up we have had for the past five years means that almost all planning applications, requiring a committee decision went to the appropriate area committee for a decision.

“A major advantage of this system is that local members, with local knowledge, can determine applications which affect their communities.

“The moves by the Labour administration to create three regional planning committees will only centralise decision making and remove the valuable input of local members.

“It also flies in the face of the stated ambition of the administration to ‘decentralise’ decision making.”

Six area committees have decided on a three committee structure, based on west, central and north Fife areas.

North East Fife area committee opted on the status quo.

Alex Rowley, leader of Fife Council, said: “The move to three planning committees from the current eight is a move in the right direction.

“This would mean a more efficient use of resources wihtin the planning service and would result in more knowledgeable and skilled councillors in the three new planning committees.

“I have had many representations from the business community in Fife for a more specialised and simplified process with councillors developing expertise around planning applications.

“Further work is to be done on the consultations and committee decisions and the Council also intends to benchmark with other councils to determine best practice across Scotland.”

The paper will be discussed at the executive committee before a full report goes to a meeting of the full Council at the end of the year.