Mid Devon’s planning committee has elements of ‘egotism and discrimination’ a councillor has claimed.
Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com
At Mid Devon District Council’s full meeting on Wednesday, August 25, Councillor Ashley Wilces (Cullompton North, Unaffiliated) put forward a motion stating: “Any councillor may attend any meeting of a committee of the council and may speak on any agenda item for that meeting.
“However, in relation to the planning committee, the right to speak on a planning application, enforcement item, or other report relating to a particular ward of the council shall be limited to the rights of a ward member to speak as set out in the Protocol of Good Practice for Councillors Dealing in Planning Matters; in addition, the chairman will also permit the following to speak for no more than three minutes, without prior notice being required: adjacent ward members, and any member having previously submitted a comment to that application that permission to speak being limited solely to the raising of material planning considerations relating to directly their ward, or else to any relevant planning policy or plan appertaining to this Council.”
Mr Wilces explained: “What this motion is seeking to do is to put in writing the practices that the chairman of the planning committee uses on occasions and doesn’t use on all occasions as I know myself.
“Members should always be treated in a fair and consistent manner when they speak at any committee, and I wasn’t. It’s wrong that one member can arbitrarily present another from speaking at the planning committee by invoking a non-existent rule without even establishing if there is a good reason for the member to be able to speak at that meeting.
“My motion doesn’t seek to give any rights to members they would not have if they were able to speak as members of the public, which it’s been decided they are not able to do.
“This motion merely seeks to set down in writing a right to speak where there is a good reason to do so. A right that does not rest upon the whim of any contrary individual.
“If discretion was being consistently and fairly applied, there is no reason to bring forward this motion. What I’ve witnessed at a meeting was an exercise in egotism and discrimination.”
His motion was backed by Councillor Graeme Barnell (Newbrooke, Liberal Democrats) who said: “Planning applications cannot be taken in isolation on the ward by ward basis.
“For example, the planning decisions around Crediton involve wards like my own in Newton St Cyres.
“These towns are spreading out and the developments are taking place in other wards. The adjacent ward issue is an essential part of the planning decision making that members from adjacent wards are often key to a voice for local people in understanding the impact of developments.”
As an example, he said that impact of developments in Crediton would affect roads through his ward.
“The way things stand, the chair has the discretion to refuse members in adjacent wards from speaking on issues to the planning committee.
“That is not right and I think we need to be very clear that members should have the right to address issues in neighbouring wards.”
He said it was also an issue across authorities.
“Another issue hit me with East Devon. We’ve had a digestate lagoon bio energy digestate ten yards the wrong side of the road. All the traffic is going to go through a village in my ward.
“East Devon kindly allowed me to speak, but it was an issue of discretion. It can happen the other way round, and I think it’s very important that we get these issues straight.
“Planning decisions and planning applications have much wider implications, particularly as we now have extensive developments taking place under the umbrella of the adopted local plan.
“I think we need to do this on the basis that planning decisions cannot be compartmentalised on a ward-by-ward basis.”
However, members of the council opted to remain the status quo and refuse the motion.
Current chair of the Mid Devon planning committee, Councillor Polly Colthorpe (Way, Conservative) added: “At present chairmen of committees, including the planning committee, have discretion to allow anyone to speak as an adjacent ward member and indeed others if they ask and have a very good reason to do so.
“That gives the chairman some control over the lengths of a meeting.
“I could not accept this motion because it gives an open book to anyone who wishes to claim the right to speak in relation to a planning application.
“Planning has a habit of running for some time. You can see from the four sets of minutes that I have to present to you tonight that one of those meetings went on till gone 7pm.
“If we have to accept anybody the right to speak, the chairman will not be able to control how long the meeting runs. The result of that could be poor decision making from members who’ve been sitting there for a very long time and just want to get it over with.”
Councillor Clive Eginton (Taw Vale, Conservative) agreed. He said: “Those of us that are on the planning committee are fully aware of the length of time that we can be debating any individual application. Some applications are very much quicker than others, and others can drag on indefinitely.
“My concern regarding this is that where you have a situation where it is an application that has a lot of surrounding wards you could conceivably be talking well in excess of half an hour getting on to goodness knows how long for members from those adjacent wards speaking on an application.”