Epsom and Ewell Borough Council (EEBC) have defended their record on planning applications in the borough after the Housing Ministry threatened to bypass them for future decisions.

Late last week (August 2), EEBC revealed that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) formally advised them that its planning authority were at risk of being placed on a "designation" list

Being 'designated' in this way means that central government will have more control over planning applications in the borough.

MCHLG made the decision because under government regulations, if over a period of two years 10 per cent or more major planning applications — schemes of 10 or more homes — are refused and subsequently the decision is overturned on appeal, the authority in question ie EEBC into special measures or 'designation'.

EEBC said that it received 30 "major" planning applications over the last two years, and that three of these were refused by councillors for a variety of reasons, including "being unsuitable for the borough".

In response to the MCHLG warning, EEBC's Councillor Clive Woodbridge, issued a strongly-worded response defending the council's actions over planning applications.

Cllr Woodbridge, who chairs the Planning Committee, said:

"We intend to robustly defend our recent record on major planning applications and we are putting together a strong case to submit to MHCLG that the council should not be designated.

"Over the last 12 months we have made a number of significant improvements to enhance the quality of decision making within our planning processes and it is worth pointing out that in that time no major applications have been refused," he said, pointing out the progress EEBC believes has been made in this regard over the last year.

"It would be an absolute tragedy that if, after all we have done to strengthen our planning regime, all of our major decisions end up out of our control and in the lap of central Government, something that would further erode the local democratic accountability of the planning system," Cllr Woodbridge added.

Cllr Woodbridge went on to say that EEBC was reforming its planning practices in line with government guidelines and would continue to do so going forward.

"In 2017 we reviewed the way we evaluate and determine major planning applications and we have been careful to ensure the council will not exceed the 10 per cent threshold going forward.

"As the new Chairman of the Planning Committee, I am determined to build on the good work undertaken by my predecessor and that we continue to make sound defensible planning decisions which secure the development needed in the borough, while protecting the interests of our community," Cllr Woodbridge said.

A spokesman for MCHLG has said: "Where an authority is designated, applicants can choose to submit their planning application to the Planning Inspectorate to decide rather than the authority.

"A decision will be made in due course.

"MHCLG is responsible for assessing local planning authority performance. The criteria for designation document states that the department writes to all authorities at risk of designation. A decision on whether to designate any authorities will be made by the Minister in due course.

"If an application is submitted directly to the Planning Inspectorate, the decision is made by Inspectors (on behalf of the Secretary of State)."