Chairman says councillors deciding planning issues have occasionally been threatened and harassed - ‘such behaviour is unacceptable’

Cllr Bill Hunt who as planning committee chairman of East Cambs District Council has spoken of threa

Cllr Bill Hunt who as planning committee chairman of East Cambs District Council has spoken of threats and harassment made to councillors over planning issues. Picture; JOHN ELWORTHY - Credit: Archant

Chaiirman Bill Hunt has spoken of councillors being threatened and harassed ahead of decisions taken by the East Cambridgeshire District Council planning committee.

Cllr Hunt was addressing councillors at the start of the October meeting of the committee.

He said he was "sad to say" that some members had been subjected to "harassment and threats at their homes.

"So far such incidences had been dealt with by letter, but such behaviour is unacceptable".

Cllr Hunt said that if any member experienced this they should report the matter to the council's monitoring officer.

Councillors were told that East Cambs deals with approximately 2,000 planning applications per year.

Of those, about 100 came to committee and the other 9 per cent were dealt with under delegated authority.

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The chairman said it cost approximately £1,000 to bring an application to committee, and members were asked to bear this in mind when considering making a call-in.

Some applications automatically came to committee, said Cllr Hunt, but he emphasised that the planning committee was quasi-judicial and members had to keep an open mind.

"If they discuss an application and express an opinion in public, this disqualifies them from hearing the case, taking part in any debate or voting on that item," he said.

Cllr Hunt said councillors were reminded that a call-in should only really be made by local councillor.

However, there were exceptions and if a councillor wanted to call in an application that was outside their ward, they should first discuss it with the local member and work with them.

Planning manager Rebecca Saunt told that committee that in August the council had received a total of 196 applications.

This was an 18 per cent increase on August 2018 but an eight per cent drop on July 2019.

Minutes of the meeting noted that the council "had dealt with its first High Hedges Appeal at St Johns Manor, St Johns Road, Ely.

"The remedial notice was appealed but the owner was required to cut the hedging down to the height specified by the planning inspector".

Cllr Hunt praised the planning team for being such a hard working department; he felt that the planning manager had created a "positive, can-do atmosphere".