• Changes afoot for public speaking at EDDC meetings

    27th July 2013 | News | Claire
  • The committee debated public speaking at meetings, including full council, overview and scrutiny, audit and governance and standards committee and have recommended to cabinet to allow members of the public to make statements, rather than insisting that questions should be asked.

    I could not understand why it was so important that people asked questions and did not make statements and expressed this view at the June standards committee meeting.

    Some councillors had suggested that the system was being “abused” by members of the public who made statements rather than asking questions – See earlier blog on this – http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/eddc_councillors_propose_changes_to_public_speaking_rights/

    Other changes include an option (but not a requirement) for early submission of public questions to allow written answers. 

    A further proposal not to allow questions that have already been asked in the past six months was, fortunately, rejected.

    Of rather more concern though, was the debate surrounding public speaking at the development management committee (planning committee).

    Once again the marathon 13 hour meeting was cited as the current system of each person having three minutes to speak to the committee on planning applications, as no longer appropriate.

    The other issue, which was the reason that public speaking at meetings ended up being reviewed, was Roger Giles very reasonable request that non committee councillors and members of the public should be allowed to speak on policy matters at the development management committee.

    This followed a meeting in February attended by well over 100 people, where councillors rubber-stamped EDDC’s reaction to the five year housing supply shortfall by agreeing to approve most large-scale housing applications in the future.

    These approvals have not taken place in the way that was feared of course, but the point is that members of the public and councillors are currently not permitted to speak on policy issues, which is nonsensical, as some of the policy decisions have significant implications for the council.

    The proposals on the table for debate for the planning committee public speaking options, were:

    1) The reasons for the increase in the number and types of applications going to Development Management Committee should be investigated [this may be due in part to technical departures from the NPPF currently being sent to Committee].

    2) Arrangements be introduced to take first on the agenda those items where planning applicants and/or public wishing to speak are present.

    3) A total period of time for public speaking on each individual planning application be introduced, for example 15 minutes. [This effectively means allowing 2 supporters and 2 objectors for each application, and is one of the most common means nationally of managing the volume of planning committee business].

    This could be linked with requiring those wishing to speak on planning applications to register two days in advance, which would give an opportunity for objectors/supporters to appoint a spokesperson in advance.

    Members may wish to consider this on a pilot basis, given the particular time pressures on Development Management Committee at the current time.

    4) Where a spokesperson for a group of objectors is appointed they be allowed 5 minutes to speak; the same time being given to the applicant

    5) Special meeting arrangements continue be made in advance for public speaking on major applications 6) Information or statistical reports be dealt with after the planning applications

    7) Policy items be listed in a separate section of the agenda

    8) Public speaking on policy items be introduced, limited to three minutes per contribution, with the Chairman having the ability to advise the meeting of the number of speakers it is possible to take on any particular occasion in the light of time available.

    Meeting arrangements will be publicised in advance for issues of major public concern.

    But although public speaking on policy matters for members of the public was proposed, officer advice was that the decision on whether non committee councillors speak on policy issues, should remain within the remit of the chairman.

    This was strongly opposed by Cllr Roger Giles – quite rightly so.  And he had support from many committee members and from planning committee chairman, Cllr Helen Parr, who was also present.

    I think for me, the most worrying proposal for changes to the planning committee public speaking rights on planning applications is proposal number 3, which limits speaking to 15 minutes. 

    It doesn’t explicitly say in the above text that what this would mean two speakers in favour, two speakers against AND a further three minutes for the applicant to set out their case.

    This was an approach that was being pushed hard by planning committee vice-chair, Cllr David Key.

    He also supported the idea that all the objectors could get together and appoint one spokesperson, something that at least one committee member thought would be impractical and unreasonable.

    Very concerned indeed that limiting speaking to 15 minutes in this way would give an unacceptable advantage to the applicant,I expressed strong opposition to such a move.

    I added that the current long meetings were temporary and would be easier to manage once the local plan was in place.  I suggested that if limits on public speaking were thought to be absolutely necessary they should be temporary and introduced as a limit per person, rather than blanket time shortened approach.

    Officers and councillors replied that the applicant or planning agent had always had the ability to speak at planning committee meetings.

    However, my point had been that limiting speaking time to 15 minutes with the above proposal, would allow three speakers in favour and two against, resulting in an unfair advantage to the applicant.

    How can this possibly be a legitimate way forward?

    Eventually, it was decided that the issue of planning committee public speaking should come back to the standards committee in the autumn.