Council defends allowing councillors who oversee housing firm to decide planning applications

Shropshire Council has defended allowing councillors who oversee its housing firm to decide planning applications put forward by the company.

Shropshire Council has rejected suggestions that the roles will lead to a conflict of interests
Shropshire Council has rejected suggestions that the roles will lead to a conflict of interests

The council’s northern planning committee will next week decide the latest application by Cornovii Developments Ltd, the company set up by the council in 2019.

Planning officers have recommended the proposals, for 35 homes to be built on the former Ifton Heath Primary School site in St Martin’s, are rejected – but the committee has the power to go against this and grant permission if it chooses.

Villagers who objected to the application have now voiced concerns over the fact four councillors on the planning committee also sit on the council’s housing supervisory board, which is tasked with overseeing Cornovii’s activity.

One resident said the officers’ recommendation of refusal was “unexpected good news” but added: “I have concerns about the northern planning committee and its conflict of interest.”

He said: “There are a number of councillors who are on this committee, and are due to decide this application, who are also on the Shropshire council housing supervisory group, who essentially run Cornovii Developments, including the chairman.

“Having viewed the minutes of several meetings, they seem to only discuss the activities of Cornovii.

“The chairman recently appeared in a press article as a representative of Cornovii.

“Is this democracy?”

The council said membership of the housing board was not a conflict of interest that would prevent members from taking part in consideration of Cornovii applications.

Merits

The northern planning committee has already considered – and approved – the company’s first two developments in Shrewsbury and Ellesmere.

Shropshire Council’s head of legal and democratic services, Claire Porter, said: “Members of the housing supervisory board should usually be able to sit as members of planning committees considering applications from Cornovii.

“Planning committee members consider the merits of an application based on very strict planning considerations and although members may have indicated that a particular site might be suitable for development, it does not follow that they will also consider that the site is suitable for the particular development proposed by the application.

“Members will always need to take care to not do or say anything that might be perceived to be an indication that they are determined to support a particular outcome in respect of a specific planning application.

“In the event that any councillor considers that a member of the public could reasonably perceive their comments to indicate that they have already made up their mind such that nothing that anyone would or could say would persuade them otherwise, they should not take part in the discussion or voting on the application at the planning committee.

“In such circumstances, it is recommended that members can make a statement and then should leave the meeting prior to the discussion and voting on the item.”

The latest application will be decided by the planning committee at a meeting on Tuesday.

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