District planning chiefs could be required to declare any contact with developers or campaign groups, if a new rules being considered by a council watchdog are adopted.
East Devon District Council’s standards committee met last week to debate whether existing regulations provide enough scope to cover lobbying of – and by – councillors.
Current rules say that councillors must, at the start of meetings, publicly state if they have personal or financial interests in any planning applications being considered.
The committee discussed a previous request by Cllr Claire Wright, ward member for Ottery Rural, for greater transparency in the planning process.
Cllr Wright said, in addition to the existing rules, members sitting on the council’s development management committee (DMC) should be required to declare if they had been lobbied on applications – and if so, by whom.
At Tuesday’s meeting Mrs Wright said: “I don’t see that the current rules provide a facility for councillors on the DMC to say whether they have been lobbied.”
She said that in order for EDDC to address concerns about a perceived lack of transparency in the planning process, it might hvae to “go a bit further” than other authorities.
“I think people would appreciate that,” she added.
Budleigh Salterton councillor, Alan Dent said it was not uncommon for DMC members to receive emails from developers, but added that such correspondence was “taken at face value.” He said: “I tend to ignore that and wait for the officers’ report.”
Cllr Ray Bloxham said that although the word “lobbying” conjured up images of improper conduct, most lobbying was “perfectly reasonable” and done by members of the public who objected to planning applications.
He warned that trying to adopt a “catch all” policy could result in limited meeting time being taken up by councillors listing every person they had spoken with about each application.
The committee agreed with the principle behind Mrs Wright’s request but resolved to revisit the issue later.