West Norfolk Council to charge parishes for planning application prints

Planning
Planning

Parish councils in West Norfolk are to be charged for paper copies of planning applications in their areas, under new proposals.

Borough council chiefs say the measure, which is due to come into force in June, is needed to help cut administration costs.

But opposition members urged a rethink at Thursday’s full council meeting.

Priory ward member Jim Moriarty said: “It’s often planning that draws people into democracy. They cannot see the plans on computer screens.”

He suggested that developers could be asked to bear the costs of providing printed copies of their schemes.

Richard Blunt, the authority’s portfolio holder for development, said he was in discussions with officers and several parish authorities in order to find a solution that suits all parties.

But, although no figures were given, he claimed there were “enormous” savings to be made by pursuing paperless forms of communication.

He said: “I appreciate this is not an easy process for people and parish councils. We are offering as much training and assitstance to parish clerks as we can but the end game is to get everybody into electronic consultation.

“To have to convert it back to paper seems rather a waste.”

He also maintained that most parish councils were “receptive” to the idea.

Under the plan, the borough council intends to move to a system of entirely electronic consultation on planning applications from June 1.

Parish councils can delay joining up until the beginning of next year.

But Mr Blunt’s report to the meeting said: “Parishes will be charged for any planning applications printed / posted to them from the 1st June.”

However, Mike Tilbury told the meeting: “A number of years ago, this council entered into a contract with parish councils at a time when relationships were frankly poor.

“Has that been taken into account in the decision to stop paper going to parish councils and to enforce electronic communications not just on councils but the public aswell?”

Mr Blunt insisted the authority had taken the concerns on board.

But he added: “We do have to be efficient. We do have to move on with technology.

“Most information comes to us in electronic form. To convert it back (to paper) is the time consuming part.”

Meanwhile, in a further sign of the soaring number of planning applications being lodged in West Norfolk, the borough council’s planning committee will meet on two successive days next week.

Almost 40 schemes are set to be considered during the meetings next Monday and Tuesday, April 4 and 5, which will both start at 9.30am.

The agendas were published after the authority released figures showing the number of planning applications submitted in the borough last year had soared by 14 per cent compared to 2014.

The latest statistics also showed 256 schemes were submitted to council planners in February alone, the highest monthly figure in at least four years.