Planning applications that might lead to expensive appeals are being taken out of the hands of traditional committees.
Instead they will be debated by the full Horsham District Council after a change in the council’s constitution was approved.
Traditionally for decades on councils a select group of councillors sitting on planning committees have decided bigger applications, including the Development Control committees of Horsham.
But some Horsham district councillors expressed concern last year about the danger of the council having to foot big bills when the committee decisions were overturned on appeals, some of them involving lengthy and expensive hearings costing many thousands of pounds.
In an attempt to head off any potential problems applications that are believed to be finely balanced will go in future before the full council.
A report on the change was before councillors at the Scrutiny and Overview Committee.
The report said that the Scrutiny and Overview Committee had recommended to council a change to the council’s constitution so that, in the event of a Development Control Committee proposing a decision that would be likely to have “significant costs implications” for the Council, the decision could be referred for determination by full council.
The recommendation had been triggered by discussions and concerns raised initially by members of the Finance and Performance Working Group and subsequently by the Business Improvement Working Group.
The councillors were told both working groups were concerned that the council had incurred significant costs in recent years arising from decisions made by both Development Control Committees that could not be justified on planning grounds.
The report said the applicants in these cases had then been successful at appeal, including obtaining significant costs awards against the council.
The change came after councillors resolved that Article 4 of the Constitution be revised by the insertion of a new paragraph stating: “To determine planning applications referred to it by the Director of Planning, Economic Development and Property if he is of the opinion that the relevant Development Control Committee is minded to make a decision in which there are likely to be significant cost implications.”