Arrangements for planning meetings under the new Somerset Unitary Council are being criticised as undemocratic. The rules for the new council, which will take over on 1 April this year, will be presented on Monday 30 January. This will be at the meeting of the Constitution and Governance Committee at County Hall at 10am.
The current rules for speaking for or against planning applications vary from district council to district council. The most draconian are at Conservative controlled Sedgemoor District Council. Here they only allow three speakers to object to a planning application, plus three speakers in favour. Elsewhere, district councils tend to allow as many speakers as turn up. It is normal to limit each speaker to 3 minutes. It is also normal to ask speakers not to repeat points already made.
However the proposed policy for the new Somerset Unitary Council is harsher than Sedgemoor. It proposes just one speaker in favour and one against with 3 minutes each. Or if there is to be more than one – the total time for all speakers is limited to 3 minutes in total in favour and 3 minutes in total against.
At least three members of the public will attend the meeting on Monday to protest that this arrangement is undemocratic.
It certainly seems counter intuitive that a LibDem run authority would propose this. Intentionally or not, it will shut down debate and minimise comments from the public.
Fletcher Robinson calls it undemocratic.
He intends to speak at Monday’s meeting for the CPRE, and told The Leveller: “One single shared three minute speaking period for objectors, this is both undemocratic, and unworkable in practice. According to our research, there is not a single planning authority in the entire country that operates such a draconian system.”
It may, inevitably prevent a complete set of planning points from being raised. And that in turn will lead to poor decision making. Whilst repetitive objections from multiple speakers are equally unproductive, is this any better?
Let’s say there are ten objections to a plan. Something you will find routinely on larger planning applications. By which we mean ten items that are reasonable grounds for objection, worthy of debate. That does not necessarily mean they are compelling or ultimately decisive. Simply that they are worthy of consideration. The proposed system would allow just 18 seconds to raise each one.
It speaks to an arrogance of power. That councillors and officers clearly know better than the public. Therefore the little folk, who can surely contribute nothing of value, are shut down from having their say.
But the surprise is that it is a LibDem council proposing this. It appears to fly in the face of LibDem values. It is as if the world turned upside down.
It is surely, clearly, absurd.
The proposals for Monday’s meeting are set out as follows:
7.19 The order of speaking and time limits for Planning Committee meetings will be as follows:
- Councillor/Local Member(s): 3 minutes each
- Parish/Town Council(s): 3 minutes shared
- Objector(s): 3 minutes shared
- Supporter(s): 3 minutes shared
- Agent/Applicant: 3 minutes shared
7.20 Where speaking times are shared, there is an overall time limit of three minutes in total, not three minutes each. Speakers in the above categories will be encouraged to coordinate with each other so that repetition can be avoided. At the Chair’s discretion the time allowed may be increased. A speaker may nominate a single spokesperson to speak on their behalf.