A COUNCILLOR has called for a radical overhaul of Stockton Borough Council's planning procedure.

Coun Steve Walmsley, leader of the Thornaby Independents Association (TIA), made his comments after council officers used their power of veto on a planning committee decision to reject a plan to build houses on the former Tall Trees hotel site - the second time this has happened in recent months.

Coun Walmsley said the Government's New Homes Bonus - payments to the council for new housing schemes - was a worrying financial incentive for the authority to build more homes.

He also accused the council of "hiding behind" the Government's National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) guidelines which make it harder for local authorities to reject planning developments.

And he argued the committee should not be arranged on proportionate party political lines, alleging that could lead to decisions being made behind closed doors in party meetings.

Senior councillors have pointed out that councils across the country have lost appeals when rejecting new houses since the NPPF came into force and that can cost taxpayers' £30,000 a time.

If an authority loses too many appeals the Government can send in its own inspectors to take over the entire planning process.

Coun Walmsley said: "Let them do it. We can't have a gun at the head like that. Let's have guts. We are democrats and that means we have a moral duty to oppose what is unacceptable.

"Right now, we've got a Government-sanctioned land-grab, with the NPPF and the new homes bonus. Even ancient woodland is no longer safe."

In response, Bob Cook, leader of the council, said: "Council officers' role is to advise members. This means they must alert planning committee members if they feel the reasons for refusal are not sufficiently sound, or are not reasonable planning grounds to refuse an application in accordance with the planning legislation which the local planning authority, including the planning committee, is bound by.

"We do so to limit the council's, and therefore tax payers', exposure to the likelihood of awards of expensive costs."