Members of the Planning Committee may wish to visit the site of a planning application they will be determining so that they have a better understanding of the effects an application may have on an area.
Planning Committee members are sometimes required to inspect a site to gain a greater understanding of its location, physical characteristics and relationship to neighbouring properties or land use. This helps them when making a formal decision on a development management (planning) application. This protocol sets out the normal practice for the arrangement and conduct of formal site visits by the Planning Committee.
Requests for site visits
A site inspection will result from any one of the following:
- A request by any county councillor in writing during the time that an application is processed (ideally within the initial 21 day consultation period). County councillors will provide reasons for their request
- The Head of Service for Growth and Economy or the Business Manager County Planning, Minerals and Waste requires one in the interests of proper decision making
- Planning Committee calls for a site visit following a deferral of a decision (although this should rarely be necessary given the provisions of 1 and 2)
Conduct of site visits
- Site visits are solely for the purpose of viewing the site, understanding its location and immediate environs to be able to put the development proposal into context, and discussing the facts of the application
- Site visits will normally be held on the Monday ahead of the Planning Committee meeting and will commence promptly at the time provided by the Democratic Services Officer
- Site visits will be led by a council officer, usually the Business Manager and / or the case officer with the assistance of the Chairman
- On occasion, officers of other authorities or statutory bodies may be invited (by the Head of Service for Growth and Economy / Business Manager County Planning, Minerals and Waste) to attend a site visit to clarify factual matters (for example Cambridgeshire County Council as the local highway authority)
- Third parties (such as applicants / agents, local members and Parish Councils) are welcome to attend the site visit, but must not engage with members of the Planning Committee. The opportunity to address members of the Planning Committee will be given at the actual meeting. Members of the Committee will therefore not directly engage any third party person present at the site visit and will address any questions to the lead officer through the Chairman
- Third parties (such as applicants / agents) will only be asked a question directly by officers through the Chairman where officers are either unable to answer the point raised e.g. where a factual query about the process / company is not directly related to planning, or the applicant / agent is best placed to answer it owing to specialist knowledge etc.
- No decisions will be made at the site visit by the Committee and the Chairman will make this clear at the beginning of the visit within the opening speech
- Officers will give a brief presentation on the site, the setting of the proposed development and the specific reasons why the Committee / officers requested a site inspection. They will also advise whether the applicant or objectors have requested that the committee view the site from other locations and how that is to be dealt with
- Councillors will ask their questions through the Chairman including any requests for specific information from the applicant / agent or any other third party. All Committee members need to ensure that they can hear the officers’ presentation and the questions and answers
- The Chairman will seek confirmation that members are satisfied they have seen everything they need to make a decision and will draw the site inspection to a close
- Members of the Committee should politely avoid engaging in private conversations with applicants, agents or any other third parties including objectors as this can give the wrong impression to others present or anyone observing the site visit
- For the purposes of factual record, attendance at a site visit will be recorded by the lead officer including the locations visited
- As the purpose of the visit is not to debate but simply to establish facts about the site and its surroundings, no formal notes of a site visit will be recorded, other than the attendance and locations visited as noted above