The discussion came about following my motion at February’s full council proposing that EDDC’s planning committee have the opportunity to declare whether or not they have been lobbied about a planning application.
The motion was referred to standards committee and was debated this morning.
Cllr Peter Bowden thought that lobbying was about improper influence, seeking to change a councillor’s mind about a particular issue. Cllr Godbeer asked many questions of Cllr Bowden, who explored more of how he thought lobbying was defined and its complexities.
Cllr Frances Newth stressed the importance of keeping an open mind on a planning application. She was lobbied by people in the street about planning applications, she said.
There was then a conversation about mugs with a computer company’s logo emblazoned and how this was lobbying.
It all seemed like rather heavy weather was being made of what I saw as a simple issue and no one had referred to the fact it was only aimed at planning committee members in any case.
I explained that it was all about transparency, that EDDC had issues with being trusted by members of the public, that there was a police investigation ongoing and how this proposal could improve public trust in the planning process, as they could see and hear councillors declare whether they had been lobbied on planning applications.
It was very simple – all it entailed was an item on the agenda and confirmation from each councillor to say whether they had been lobbied and if so, whether it was in favour or against a particular application, I suggested.
I disagreed that lobbying had to be bad – we all lobby all the time about things, I said, that’s just part of life.
Ray Davison (external member of the committee) pointed out that lobbying was an essential part of democracy. He said that the gossip in Exmouth was that there may be impropriety in planning decisions at EDDC.
Cllr Ray Bloxham came to the table. He had been examining the constitution in which, he said, there was already guidance on reporting certain kinds of lobbying to the monitoring officer. He said that these rules should be examined before any further work was done. No other local council appeared to have any rule in place on declaring lobbying as part of an agenda, Cllr Bloxham added.
A senior officer confirmed that she would prepare a report for the June standards committee meeting.
If you wish to listen to the recording of this debate, it will appear here soon – http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/standards_committee_agenda_mins_remit.htm