Cash-strapped council to axe £500 planning coach trips

Stoke on Trent City Councils Civic Centre
Stoke on Trent City Council's Civic Centre -Credit:Copyright Unknown

A cash-strapped council is to stop spending hundreds of pounds on coach trips for planning committee members. Stoke-on-Trent City Council's rules currently require it to arrange a coach whenever the planning committee votes to go on a site visit - as members are barred from making their own way to the site to ensure they all receive the same information.

Hiring a coach for this purpose can cost taxpayers between £400 and £500 a time on average. But now the council has scrapped the coach rule and told planning committee members to travel to the site independently instead.

This is one of a number of changes to the city council's constitution which have been approved by elected members.

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The planning committee usually makes decisions after hearing from officers, applicants and objectors during meetings held at Stoke Town Hall. But sometimes they committee will opt to go on a site visit in order to gain first hand knowledge which could help them make a decision.

The constitution currently states that 'it is a requirement for all committee members to travel to and from the site on the coach provided for that purpose... because at all times the committee is one session and by the use of independent travel there is a risk (or a perceived risk) that the member will not be party to all information received by other members'.

Under the amendment, this passage will be deleted and replaced with one referring to committee members travelling independently. The new version says that committee members arriving at the site should 'maintain their objectivity' and that there should be 'no dialogue on the proposal with the applicant and/or agent until the chair/officers arrive'. The revised rules will explicitly bar councillors from accepting lifts from applicants or objectors.

A report by monitoring officer James Doble states that hiring coaches is 'costly' and 'in the current financial climate this level of expenditure cannot be reasonably justified'. Mr Doble also explains that he does not agree with the 'previously perceived risk and feels that at best it is remote'.

The planning committee has undertaken two site visits over the past year, once in relation to the forthcoming Florence MacWilliams Academy in Meir last summer, and more recently in relation to a new children's home in Minton Grove, in Baddeley Green. Both applications were eventually approved, following the site visits, despite receiving large numbers of objections from residents.

Councillor Ross Irving, a member of the planning committee, believes that axing the coach rule is the right decision.

He said: "I've always felt that it was stupid that we had to get on a bus for every site visit. I think as long as there are clear rules that planning committee members are not to discuss an application until they get to the location, there's nothing wrong with asking them to drive themselves, or car share. There have been times in the past where planning committee members have felt that they might benefit from a site visit, but they were conscious of the expense."