DECISIONS on some planning applications in Torfaen – including some “major developments” – could be made by unelected officers instead of councillors.

With councils currently struggling to hold meetings as a result of lockdown rules, Torfaen County Borough Council’s planning committee will decide next week whether more planning decisions should be made by officers during the pandemic.

These decisions could include schemes where the application is for a major development and there are valid planning objections or schemes where the council is the applicant – currently only council schemes of a ‘minor’ nature can be decided by officers without going through committee.


Currently, these decisions are left for councillors in the planning committee to determine, with officers making recommendations for approval, deferral or refusal.

In a report, the council says that it would help “ease the burden on planning committee members on having to deal with applications remotely” and will help address the build-up of 20 or more applications that would otherwise need to be decided by the planning committee in the next few months.

The report says that councillors could still call in applications – requiring them to be scrutinised by council members – if they wanted to.

It says: “Members will still be able to request any application be reported to planning committee.

“This along with the involvement of the chair of planning committee in decision making relating to the specified categories and the discretion of the head of planning and development to report any applications to committee are considered to be appropriate safeguards for the amended delegations.”

Excluding any agreed extensions with applicants, most planning applications have eight weeks to be determined, unless they require an environmental impact assessment – here the time limit is doubled to 16 weeks.

Despite the movement to remote meetings and the current focus on key services during the coronavirus pandemic, the Welsh Government has not extended this time limit.

If the council does not decide these applications within the time frame, then they could face appeals and financial penalties.

What are the other councils doing?

Newport council said that all decisions made on planning applications since the council suspended public meetings have been made through delegated powers set out in their constitution.

A council spokesman said: “This will not result in any delays to key decisions, particularly relating to the council’s response to the current situation.

“Timely decisions will continue to be made in accordance with the officer and members schemes of delegation detailed in the council’s constitution and urgent decision-making procedures.”

Monmouthshire council said they have made decisions on 167 applications since lockdown. The council is considering a remote planning meeting in July to address any applications that have an upcoming deadline.

Caerphilly council said they have made decisions on 156 planning applications during the lockdown period. They have identified 10 applications that need to be determined by the planning committee and plan to hold a remote meeting on June 17.

A Blaenau Gwent council spokesman said: “We are continuing to deal with planning applications under the existing scheme of delegation. The governance around this has not changed.

“We are planning to hold a virtual planning committee meeting towards the end of June to deal with applications that require a decision at that level.”