Streamlined planning wins growing support

Cllr Alex Rowley
Cllr Alex Rowley

A REVIEW of how Fife Council determines planning applications is continuing after a report was presented to the seven area committees and the planning committee on proposed changes.

Last week, the Mail reported on council plans to shift planning powers away from the area committees, which are made up of local ward councillors, and instead consider three new methods of decision making.

The authority says this is to ensure “appropriate devolution of decisions” to meet local needs and improve the planning authority’s contribution to tackling the economic difficulties and housing shortage facing Fife.

Currently, there are seven area committees, a strategic planning committee and full council – a total of nine different planning decision-making bodies, involving all 78 councillors in Fife.

At the moment, most local planning decisions are discussed and decided at area committee level, and the planning committee takes decisions on Fife-wide issues.

The area committees and the planning committee were presented with four options for consideration: a single development (planning) committee for Fife; committees based on the current SESPlan and TAYPlan boundaries; committee structure based on west, central and north Fife areas, or a retaining the status quo of a planning committee and seven area committees.

Six area committees, including Levenmouth, decided on the three-committee option but north east Fife area committee decided on the status quo, with the three-committee option being its fall back position.

The planning committee also recently voted to retain the status quo.

Leader of the council, Councillor Alex Rowley, said: “We welcome the fact the area committees support change.

“The move to three planning committees from the current eight planning committees is now a move in the right direction.

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

However, opposition councillor John Beare welcomed the planning committee’s stance to retain the current way of working, saying it would ensure decisions affecting local communities would be taken at the most appropriate level.

Cllr Beare said: “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.”

It is intended to take a report on the review process to a meeting of the full council at the end of the year.