BOLTON Council is to stop giving ‘free advice’ to developers as they prepare large-scale planning applications.

Currently, council officers consult with developers at the pre-application stage of the planning process to make sure issues are covered prior to formal documents being lodged.

This currently happens without charging the planning applicant.
However, the process is being changed with fees set to be levied for the pre-application service from the authority.

A meeting of Bolton’s full council heard a question from veteran Liberal Democrat Westhoughton councillor, David Wilkinson.

He described the planning process in recent years as being taken ‘out of local communities into the arms of the big boys’.

He said: “When it comes to planning, the big boys get through the front door of the council while the little people are lucky if they get their phone call answered and that’s fact.

“The cabinet member will be aware of a recent presentation at place scrutiny committee about the removal of free advice given by planning officers to applicants of large developments.

“Has this advice now stopped and if not when it will cease?

“Can he inform council how many times in the last couple years free advice has been given to developers and the costs in officer time?

“Has a register been kept of these free advice sessions and whether they are available to the public?”

The cabinet member responsible for planning, Toby Hewitt, told the council: “The pre-application process is aimed at covering all the issues including consultation.

“In some cases this means the required pre-application advice can be fairly extensive.

“As a result I would like to formalise the pre-application process to provide a pre-approved level of advice.

“More importantly, there will be a fee for this service so it will be a new form of revenue created under this administration.

“I’ve requested this be brought forward to the policy and development group to find out what costs and revenue will accrue to the council.”

Cllr Hewitt likened it to ‘a tax on larger developers, which other authorities have employed but we haven’t in the past’.

He added: “Pre application advice are not public documents and are not registered in the same way as a planning application so it is difficult to draw out specific pre-application work.

“But the new process will include registering this pre-application work.”