Councillors claim they are being denied the opportunity to visit sites earmarked for development in a breach of the usual procedure.

The Labour group claims members of Barnet Council’s planning committee were denied the opportunity for site visits on planning applications for nearly 1,000 residential units by the Conservative chairman of the committee, Cllr Wendy Prentice.

Site visits enable councillors to gauge the impact a proposed development could have on neighbours and the nearby area.

But Cllr Prentice accused Labour of “creating a storm in a teacup” and warned against wasting taxpayers’ money on unnecessary visits.

At the meeting of the planning committee on July 25, Labour councillor Claire Farrier requested that four applications be deferred as no site visits had taken place.

But the request was defeated by six votes to four.

Cllr Prentice said it was her decision not to request the officers to organise site visits, as she did not think they were necessary.

According to Cllr Farrier, she spoke to planning officers two days before the meeting and they told her the chairman had said there was no need for such visits.

Labour planning spokesperson Cllr Tim Roberts said: “Site visits are a vital part of the work of the planning committee.

“To be on site and see the impact of a potential development on the local vicinity and have the ability to question council planning officers on site is essential for planning committee members.

“As one application at Pentavia Retail Park sought permission for the construction of over 720 residential units in buildings up to 15 storeys high, it is unbelievable that the Tory chair did not permit a site visit.

“Maybe if the application had been for four luxury houses in Hampstead Garden Suburb her decision would have been different.”

As well as the Pentavia Park application, Labour claims the chairman rejected the request for deferral of the applications for developments at Mount Parade in East Barnet, a new cafe on the Montrose Playing Fields in Hendon and development at the Jewish Cemetery in Edgwarebury Lane.

Cllr Wendy Prentice, chairman of Barnet Council’s planning committee, said: “This is typical of the Labour Group creating a storm in a teacup after running out of anything meaningful to say.

“All the sites on the July 25 agenda had either been visited by members already or were so well known that a visit would have been a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

“However, Labour members were free to make their own site visits if they wanted. I can only assume that, as the planning committee will not meet again until September, they were simply trying to delay decisions being made. Our residents deserve better.”

A council spokesman said: “Planning officers will normally arrange visits to every site on the agenda unless it has been visited previously in relation to an earlier application or if it is a location well known to committee members. The schedule of site visits is agreed between officers and the planning committee chairman.

“In the case of the Pentavia Retail Park application, it was considered that the site was well known to members because of its prominent location close to the A1, and that the restricted views from within the site offered limited information beyond that already available in the officer report and presentation. 

“Both Montrose Playing Fields and the cemetery in Edgwarebury Lane have been the subject of previous applications and have been visited by members before. Mount Parade is a location already known to members.

“Committee members are also able to make their own arrangements to visit sites should they consider this necessary.”