Leeds Council removes planning application objections from public view in controversial move branded 'wrong'
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There were bad-tempered exchanges between the Labour administration and opposition groups as the controversy was debated at a full council meeting on Wednesday.
Those in charge said the move has been forced by staff shortages in the planning department and the time it takes to moderate abusive and libellous remarks.
But critics across the opposition benches said it will undermine openness and trust in the planning process.
Conservative group leader Alan Lamb, whose motion triggered the debate, also attacked the lack of consultation over the move.
He said: “I think the proposal and the way it’s been implemented is wrong. It’s time, quite simply, to reverse it.
“Having a debate about how you deal with derogatory comments on planning applications – that’s reasonable. There are other ways you can redact the comments.”
Green councillor Ed Carlisle criticised the government’s cuts to local councils, but warned: “Having worked with residents on a number of planning campaigns, the public will lose far more than they gain.”
Garforth and Swillington Independent leader Mark Dobson noted the abuse and baseless accusations of corruption councillors are often subject to on social media following controversial planning decisions.
He said: “I’m the first to say you might not agree with a decision, but it has been reached in a proper, thorough and diligent manner.
“It’s harder to hold that position, when things are happening around us (as councillors), rather than through us.”
But Councillor Helen Hayden, the executive member for infrastructure said: “This is a business decision. If we had to consult on every decision like this, quite frankly it would slow the whole thing down.
“No-one is being denied the ability to make comments on planning applications. We know informally some people don’t want to make comments because they fear a digital pile-on or abuse for engaging with the planning system.”
Her Labour colleague Kayleigh Brooks hit out at the government for delays in looking at hiking planning fees, a consultation for which is now underway. Under the plans, the extra cash could then be used to help fund more planning officers.
Councillor Brooks later received a ticking off from the lord mayor for saying the government should “pull its finger out of its a***” over the matter.
She said: “Because the Tory government has underfunded Leeds City Council, we need this trial to free up our planners to do their primary, statutory job, which is determining planning applications. Not getting involved in cr*p between residents quite often.
“There has been quite a lot of horrible racist and sexist abuse on there that has to be moderated.”