Lewisham Council is planning to extend the changes it made in June which mean more planning decisions are made in private.  

Blaming lack of resources and a backlog of planning applications due to Covid-19, the council upped the public objection threshold that automatically sends an application to committee. 

Previously, a planning committee had to decide on an application at a public meeting if certain thresholds were met, such as three or more valid objections, if there were one or more objections from a residents association, or an objection from a council member.  

The changes raised the threshold from three to five objections, but when there are between five and nine objections, the chair of the committee can still decide to refer the decision to a planning officer after reviewing the application.  

It was agreed that the changes – which led to 16 cases being affected – would be reviewed after three months, and now the council is proposing to extend for another six months. 

When the strategic planning committee gave the changes the green light, members said they wanted assurances that they would be temporary. 

Members also questioned whether the changes were necessary at all.  

At the meeting in June Cllr Kevin Bonavia said he wanted to know “that it is absolutely temporary”.   

“I’m a member and chair of the local democracy working group, and as part of the democracy review one of the recommendations is considering ways in which we could reform our planning decision making process so that is it more engaging with our residents and it is more efficient in the way we make decisions.  

“One of the things we wanted to look at is how we go about dealing with objections and what’s the threshold that brings them [to] committee”, he said.   

Cllr Suzannah Clarke said reviewing is “different to saying that this would be a temporary measure and would finish at a certain point”.  

“My concern is that a review would be thorough and would not […] lead to permanency.” 

The report is going to the strategic planning committee on Thursday (September 3).

A spokesperson for Lewisham Council said: “The Covid pandemic and lockdown restrictions has meant that we have had to make temporary changes to their scheme of delegation.  

“A number of planning officers have been redeployed to critical services, which has put significant pressure on officer capacity to process applications.  

“Furthermore, the need for social distancing has required all council meetings to move online, which has implications for how the planning committee would and officers normally engage with the community. 

“The temporary changes to Lewisham’s Scheme of Delegation has allowed the council to reduce the growing backlog of planning applications, while importantly continuing to engage with and listen to residents and councillors.  

“As the national public health picture remains uncertain, it has been necessary to extend the temporary measures for a further six months.  

“We will keep these measures under review, following Government guidance, and are clear that the planning process must remain transparent and that residents can have their say on individual planning applications.”