The contentious – and in my view, complicated and unwieldy – plans were referred to the overview and scrutiny committee after a heated debate at full council last month – see here – https://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/stormy_debate_stalls_public_speaking_restrictions

At last night’s meeting the scrutiny committee went through each recommendation one by one.

Despite some of the scrutiny committee, including me, Roger Giles, Steve Wragg, Graham Troman and Eileen Wragg, arguing that the committee time is largely taken up with officer and councillor debate, conservative councillors seemed to think that very long planning committee meetings were the fault of the public and that too many people spoke.

The report in last night’s agenda papers, dismissed the idea that the committee meetings may need to be looked at with a view to limit councillor repetition.

Cllr David Key announced that he thought members of the public were “crafty” when it came to making the same point. They said the same things in a different way, he insisted.

Cllr Key added that residents can take more than four minutes to get up from the public gallery and sit down again after speaking. He had timed this, he confirmed.

Cllr Peter Bowden was at great pains to seek clarification on whether the public had a legal right to speak at planning committee meetings. Although, I would have thought most of us had known that there was no legal right to speak!

Cllr Steve Wragg said that he had been a member of the planning committee for years but had got fed up with it because of the “agony” of the lengthy debate, which ensued under the last three chairmen. The meetings drag on because of the debate among members, he emphasised.

Cllr Graham Troman gave some statistics in which demonstrated how few members of the public are speaking on planning applications over the course of a year.

But Cllr Ray Bloxham argued, which was backed up by the solicitor present, that members of the public were disenfranchised by long meetings.  Examples were given of people waiting until 6pm before their application came up.

I suggested that this was due to the way the agenda was set out. Currently very rigidly, in alphabetical order. One month A-Z and the next Z-A. Surely, I argued, if the agenda was set out in a more responsive manner, according to the number of objections that had been received, then controversial planning applications would be placed first on the agenda, resulting in fewer people waiting for a long time.

I argued vehemently against the restrictions of allowing the applicant a speaking slot, over and above the supporters, but remarkably most of the committee thought that this was an acceptable way forward!

My view that developers could play the system, as a result of the first come first served approach, exacerbating the clear advantage handed to them, by giving them an extra speaking slot, was not addressed.

I raised the issue of the length of the Gittisham planning application for 300 houses – and the comparison between 18 minutes of public speaking and over an hour of committee debate. It was also the second time the application was debated, in the space of a month.

Roger Giles added that at this meeting one councillor had taken four and a half minutes to sum up his proposal to approve the application, after also speaking at length during the debate. See more here – https://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/300_houses_between_gittisham_and_honiton_approved

I found it really frustrating that there was absolutely no acceptance at all that some committee members were making long rambling contributions/and or repeating other members’ points – and that these should be more concise.

The unsatisfactory answer given by planning committee chairman, Cllr Helen Parr, which missed the point entirely, was that the council might be subject to a legal challenge if the debate was cut off early.

Roger did manage to get one more recommendation passed in relation to officers being concise. But my proposal that the chairman should proceed to a vote when it was clear that members were in agreement, was voted down.

Even Roger Giles’ proposal for a small alteration in wording relating to “requesting” speakers register in advance, rather than “requiring” was voted down, on the basis that residents might turn up and not be able to speak.

Relating to the most damaging recommendations, Roger Giles and I made arguments and/or proposals to either delete or mitigate the plans but the restrictions were approved by the majority of the committee. The voting went largely along party lines, with the conservatives voting in favour of the clampdown.

The public speaking restrictions will next be put to cabinet. And then will come before 23 July full council meeting, for a final decision.

Here are the recommendations, which were voted through virtually unaltered:

• pre-registration of all public speakers at planning committee on planning applications so that the public (meaning ONLY those who have submitted written comment on an application prior to agenda publication) are required to register, to speak on an item three working days before the meeting.

• The number of speakers is to be limited to:
Parish/Town Council representative, 2 objectors, 2 supporters, applicant or agent, Ward Member(s) on minor applications

Parish/Town Council representative 5 objectors, 5 supporters, applicant or agent, Ward Member(s) on major applications

Speakers will be registered on a first come, first served basis. Registered speakers will be advised that their contact details, unless they tell Democratic Services otherwise, will be posted on the Council’s website to allow others, who may have wished to speak, to contact them.

Public speaking to remain limited to 3 minutes per contribution and 5 minutes for ward member(s).

• Planning applications to be numerically ordered on the published agenda, with a revised order to be published by 12 noon the day before the meeting prioritising
applications on which people have registered to speak.  All items where there are registered public speakers to be taken before items where there are no registered public speakers. Where there are registered speakers for major applications these be taken first. 

Photograph: Protesters outside the full council meeting last month where the public speaking clampdown was first debated.