In a shocking move against local democracy, the government’s Department for Education (DfE) has asked the national planning inspector to decide on the Sheen Way school application, taking the decision away from the local Planning Committee.
Apparently to take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis, the DfE submitted an appeal for non-determination of the Sheen Way SEN school application on 29th April. This means that the decision on the application will be taken by the Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol, rather than by locally elected councillors at the Planning Committee here in Sutton.
Planning Officers at the council have worked hard, in light of the number of objections by residents, to take the time to consider this application and have requested more information from the applicants to demonstrate how they propose to address the access issues presented by the site. This is now being used as an excuse by the government to force through a decision on their terms.
As the case remains finely balanced, it is still planned to put the application to a Planning Committee meeting so a council position can be agreed. However, it will be the Planning Inspectorate that will decide whether to grant or refuse the application.
The situation is further complicated by Covid-19 as the Planning Committee meeting will need to be held virtually. Currently it is expected that the Planning Committee will consider the application towards the end of May. Council officers are working on adapting the virtual format to facilitate this meeting and allow it to be live-streamed.
Despite requests from the council, the Planning Inspectorate have yet to provide dates and details for the appeal hearing.