By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
Kent’s highways chief claims the county council’s officers no longer attend planning meetings because they are “insulted, bullied and threatened”.
Cllr David Brazier was responding to complaints by members of the cross-party Maidstone Joint Transportation Committee (JTB) about the absence of Kent County Council (KCC) officials at Wednesday’s meeting.
It is a complaint that has also been raised several times by Thanet’s JTB with members at one point refusing to make a highways decision until an officer was in attendance.
Cllr Brazier, who is the KCC cabinet member for highways, said he is rarely invited to the 12 district JTBs in Kent.
But he had provided a paper for the August 2 JTB written by a KCC officer, which he had approved, outlining the authority’s position on its “involvement in the highway aspects of planning applications.”
Planning applications for new developments, such as the massive house-building programme currently happening across Kent, are dealt with at borough and district council level.
KCC’s highways department will give its assessment on applications regarding potential impact on local roads.
Cllr Brazier said: “Highways officers do not routinely attend planning meetings at district/borough level because, in the past, they have been insulted, bullied and threatened when they have not effectively ‘stopped’ an application held in disfavour by local members or the public.
“I do not suggest that that has ever happened at Maidstone. If a substantial development is being considered, officers can attend.”
Cllr Brazier’s report to the JTB said planning inspectors are “routinely approving appeals” to rejected planning applications and highways congestion is “not often” upheld as a reason for refusal.
Today, he expanded that stance by saying: “Elected members, and indeed members of the public have sometimes held the view that planning applications can be ‘stopped’ by highways officers’ interventions at planning meetings, and they become upset when this does not happen.”
One borough councillor said that the absence at the JTB of Cllr Brazier or KCC highways officials made a “mockery of democracy”.
Cllr Brazier hit back: “It is essential that highways officers’ responses to the planning applications submitted to them are unbiased and should not be influenced by members, who are not qualified people.
“If members want to influence a planning application, including its highways aspects, they need to present their views to the local development control committee, which is completely democratic.”
In his JTB paper, Cllr Brazier had suggested residents moving into new developments could use more “sustainable” ways of travelling, such as cycling, walking or public transport, to avoid congested roads.
This angered some local representatives in the Maidstone borough who said roads are simply not safe for cycling due to heavy volumes of traffic.
Cllr Brazier responded: “Highways Officers are primarily interested in safety. Whether there is capacity for sustainable transport in a development is a matter for developers.”