BCP Council to replace single planning committee serving Christchurch with two teams comprising eastern and western
THE planning committee covering Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole will be split into two area-based teams serving the east and west of the region.
The authority’s planning department has had a single committee since BCP Council was established in 2019, but following last year’s elections the new administration proposed a review of how it operates.
Plans to change the current arrangements were put forward by Christchurch councillors two years ago, but were rejected by the previous administration.
A recent second motion was put for a review, backed again by Christchurch members, on the grounds it would see more “localised decision-making”.
But some councillors said they could see no justification for carving the committee up, given that planning decisions are driven by national policies and must be consistent across all areas of the conurbation.
A BCP full council meeting heard that each committee would comprise 11 members, and that “political balance rules would apply” to each. Bournemouth would be split down the middle.
Independent councillor for Highcliffe, Andy Martin, said the review had been prompted by a feasibility report funded by four parish councils in Christchurch.
“A planning consultant, who has worked on all the local neighbourhood plans, advised that having [two committees] had worked perfectly well in other areas and was feasible here.
“Cllr Margaret Phipps brought that to full council two years ago and it was rejected by the previous administration. But here we are now with it about to be implemented, if passed, which just goes to show that politics is the art of the possible.”
But Bournemouth Cllr Stephen Bartlett said one of the main reasons to divide up the committee was that it was not coping with the workload.
“This did not materialise,” he said. “A single committee has accommodated its workload for the last four years with relative ease.
“It’s stated the change would improve local representation but planning decisions are driven by planning policy contained within the national planning policy framework and the Local Plan, not by the personal views of planning committee members.
“We should also remember that the role of ward councillors in deciding on planning applications was enhanced specifically to ensure that local views would be properly presented.
“When you consider that Bournemouth will be split right down the middle, how does this arrangement improve consistency?”
Cllr Karen Rampton raised concerns about such a “costly move”, citing a figure of “nearly £100,000”, while Cllr Joe Salmon said the split would be “creating an extra administrative burden” and appeared to be trying to “solve a problem that doesn’t exist”.
But other members stressed the current single committee structure was “stretching the ability to cope with wide geographical knowledge” that was needed, and argued it addressed a criticism among local residents that decisions were being made by councillors on application sites not well known to them.
The motion to introduce east and west committees – with Christchurch being covered by the eastern – was carried.