A development management committee (DMC) member was not “paying attention” at a planning meeting, where controversial plans for development on Cuffley's Green Belt was being discussed. 

Northaw & Cuffley Parish Council filed for an FOI request to find out why Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council scheduled a rehearing for the Wells Farm Planning Application.

Cuffley residents expressed their disapproval of WHBC’s decision to approve plans to demolish existing buildings and erect 14 dwellings - after it had previously been denied.  

In September, the same issue was considered by the same people and the vote was 7 to 6 to refuse consent. During the rehearing in October, the vote was 11 to 2 in favour. 

The FOI response said that "Councillor X was not paying attention to proceedings. Either way, it would have been impossible for Cllr X to have considered the slides being shown on the screen or follow the debate about the proposals between planning officers, legal officer, chairman and other members of the planning committee. 

"There are profound diametric consequences to the outcome of the application's determination. Specifically, if Cllr X's vote did not stand due to their inability to consider the evidence, the application would have been approved based upon the chairman's vote carrying the split decision." 

Additional information was not released by the WHBC in the report due to legal reasons. 

The FOI also explained whether the decision taken on Thursday, September 29, could be considered a lawful decision and would be defensible at legal challenge or appeal, relating to the decision-making process. 

There is no separate record of the decision, as the decision to rescind the previous resolution and consider the matter afresh was taken by the Development Management Committee on October 20. 

A WHBC council spokesman said: “Following the meeting of the Development Management Committee on September 29, detailed concerns were raised as to whether full and proper consideration was given by each member of the committee to the whole of the relevant information which was provided during the course of the meeting. 

"These related to concerns that a member of the committee had not paid attention to proceedings during the consideration of the application, which could have led to a potential challenge of the decision taken by the committee. 

“Officers gave detailed consideration to these concerns, including taking independent specialist legal advice, and concluded that the matter should be referred to the Development Management Committee for it to be given fresh and full consideration, following the rescission of the previous resolution. 

“Whether an application is granted or refused, decisions need to be robust and able to stand up to scrutiny, whether through legal challenge or appeal. The application was reconsidered to ensure this is the case, irrespective of the outcome.  

"We had written to interested parties to notify them of the situation and the new committee date, and the papers were published in accordance with the normal statutory timelines, to ensure maximum transparency. 

“We have stated our commitment to protecting the Green Belt on many occasions, but individual planning applications must be considered on their own merits, in accordance with local and national policy. 

"The officer’s report sets out the reasoning for the recommendation for this particular application, and all representations were considered, including those submitted on behalf of local residents. This report was provided to the committee, who were the decision-taker in this instance. 

“We understand the reaction from some residents given that the application had been to committee in September, but we have a responsibility to ensure that decisions are robust and stand up to scrutiny, both as a principle and in order to try to avoid taxpayer money being spent in defending legal claims. 

"The outcome of the committee in September was not a factor in considering whether the matter should be referred to the Development Management Committee for a fresh and full consideration."