Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independent Alliance) has succeeded Cllr Roger Truelove (Labour) as leader of Swale Borough Council and the Cabinet System has been abandoned in favour of a committee system.
Under the committee system, individual councillors no longer have executive powers and cannot make decisions outside of the cross-party committees. From Faversham Cllr Ben J Martin (Lib Dem) chairs Housing and Health; Cllr Julian Saunders (Labour) chairs Environment, Cllr Tim Valentine (Green) is his deputy and
Cllr Denise Knights (Independent) chairs the Eastern Area Committee and Julian Saunders is vice-chair. Cllrs Mike Baldock and Monique Bonney (Deputy Council Leader, Independent group) are chair and vicechair of Policy and Finance & Urgent Decisions. Cllr Hannah Perkin (Lib Dem) chairs the Standards Committee.
It remains to be seen what changes in practice the new committee system brings. It is likely that there will be more transparency and perhaps more cross-party working. On the other
hand between committee meetings, officers will make more of the day to day decisions.
James Freeman and Graham Thomas have retired from the senior posts in Swale Planning. Flo Churchill is the new interim Head of Planning Services. Most recently Flo was Interim Service Director – Development and Regulation at West Berkshire Council. She is also Planning Advisor to various Associations of Local Councils and the National Association of Local Councils. We can expect change.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
The Planning Advisory Service in “A Stitch in Time” published in 2008 sought to challenge the “traditional perception of enforcement services as an inessential, non-statutory and reactive service towards enforcement being a key component in an effective development management service.” More recently (2020) the Royal Town Planning Institute has pointed out that: “At its heart, the planning system relies on trust and our enforcers provide the backbone of this trust – trust that those who flout our planning laws (and often other laws at the same time) will be brought to account; trust that those who strive for high quality will not be undermined by those who would deliver ill-planned and ill-designed development; and trust that the high-quality schemes that achieve planning permission will be delivered with that same quality – that planning will deliver what is promised.”
Planning enforcement has been weak in Swale, it is a non-statutory service; the local authority does not have to provide the service. Given that Swale has seen its funding from central government decimated, with its revenue support grant reducing from £4.17 million in 2014/15 to just £119,000 in 2022/23 it, along with other discretionary services could be vulnerable to cuts.