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'Disturbing' bias against High Wycombe, claims mayor
RURAL areas are given biased treatment over High Wycombe when it comes to challenging developers, the town's mayor claims.
Cllr Trevor Snaith, Liberal Democrat, said recent plans to turn the Nag's Head Pub in High Wycombe into a hotel were a key example.
Despite about 700 objections the application was permitted by officers under delegated powers - rather than going to a public scrutiny committee hearing at Wycombe District Council.
His findings show that far fewer contentious plans for High Wycombe wards, as opposed to areas like Marlow and Risborough, are challenged in public, he said.
38 planning applications have been put forward to be reviewed by the committee since April 2012.
Only seven out of eighteen High Wycombe plans were put to committee, compared to 13 out of 20 rural applications.
Cllr Snaith said his findings were 'disturbing' and argued it showed "great disparity".
He said: "There's a bias against the town. There's a marked difference and a bias which suggests the town ones which are referred aren't getting to the public committee, which is a bit of an annoyance.
"One could assume from this that they are allowing development to be dumped on this town without due consideration."
Applications can be decided under delegater powers given to officers. The chairman of the planning committee, currently Councillor David Johncock, decides whether a proposal will be ruled upon by councillors at a public meeting.
Both he and Cllr Neil Marshall, the previous chairman, represent rural wards.
Cllr Snaith said: "The town is losing out because its being run my rural councillors."
Cllr Marshall, cabinet member for planning, responding to Cllr Snaith at a meeting on Monday night, said: "You've raised this before when I was chairman of the committee.
"I would submit to you that it's the quality of the requests that are reflected by this."
He said: "I'm satisfied that we have a very fair and robust system for determining planning applications even if every party does not agree with the final decision.
"You can't please everybody all the time. All planning applications determined under delegated powers are carefully considered against adopted policies and in the light of all representations we receive.
"We target the viable time of the planning committee at those applications where the scrutiny of the committee can add real value to the process.
"This is part of ensuring cost effective, robust decision making. The process (of delegation) captures more contentious applications."
If sound planning reasons are put forward these are considered in consultation with the chairman. The delegation process is being refined and improved, he added.
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