Councillors disagree over fees for advice

Charging people even for straightforward advice from planning officers has been condemned as unfair.

The issue was raised at last week’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s south east area committee in Blyth by a voluntary group member.

He said he had sought guidance on materials to be used in restoring a building for community use and was told he would have to pay £140 for the advice.

Coun Barrie Crowther, of Cramlington Eastfield, said he knew of a man asking if he needed planning permission for a fence being charged for two letters.

“That’s not fair,” he said. “It’s a nonsense.”

Executive member Coun Tom Brechany, of Cramlington South East, defended the practice.

“It does take up hours of officer time and it has to be paid for,” he said.

Democratic services manager Paddy Gascoigne said: “It takes an inordinate amount of officer time up and officers have to meet very stringent targets on dealing with planning permissions and getting them through on time. That’s why the policy is there.”

But chairman Coun Ian Swithenbank remarked: “It seems hard on community organisations.”

The questioner then revealed he had since had a meeting with an officer and been given all the information needed, at no charge.