Thursday, 27 March 2014

East Devon District Council proposes "to trial a change to the current public speaking arrangements and implement steps to reduce the length of planning committee meetings."

Back in December, the District Council rejected proposals to reduce the amount of time given to the public to speak at planning meetings:

However, the Council seems to be having second thoughts and has opened up the can of worms once again. According to a new report , it wants to "to trial a change to the current public speaking arrangements and implement steps to reduce the length of Development Management Committee meetings." 

Whilst the document compares how other Councils manage their planning meetings, it's startling to see that East Devon has to deal with more than DOUBLE the amount of planning applications other districts have to. 
This is their comment, on page 8:

An alternative analysis of these figures might come up with a different set of questions:
> Why are there so many planning applications being made in this District - compared to others?
> If there are so many, why not double the number of planning committee meetings to accommodate the number of applications?
> Why does the work-load necessitate 'reducing' the amount of time available for comment in public?

However, following on from questions about 'how to access decision-making'
Futures Forum: "What is lobbying?"... "Openness and transparency is vital."

... and within the context of such controversial 'last-minute' planning applications
Outrage at plans for 1,200 houses on green wedge on outskirts of Exeter at Old Park Farm, Pinn Hill, between Pinhoe and the village of Westclyst | Exeter Express and Echo
“You have given permission for 1,200 homes” DMC Chair told | East Devon Alliance

... there are fears that these proposals will simply mean there will be fewer opportunities for members of the public to voice concern:

EDDC set to clamp down hard on public speaking at planning committee meetings

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 5 Comments by Claire
At a time when East Devon is more under pressure than ever from major planning applications in the open countryside, a working group of councillors have proposed to dramatically reduce public speaking rights at planning committee meetings.

In a paper that has just appeared on EDDC’s website, the proposed new public speaking regime will be debated at the development management (planning committee) meeting next Tuesday (1 April).
The paper from the working group, which was chaired by Cllr Ray Bloxham, insists its proposals will bring it in line with other local authorities and are to counter:
- very long meetings
- public repetition
- the many planning applications to be considered now and in the future.
The new rules would mean pre-registration of speakers and impose strict limits on the numbers of people allowed to address the planning committee.
And I believe that the new proposals hand a clear advantage - even more than already offered by a pro-development planning system - to the applicant, by offering them a time slot of their own, in addition to the slots available for supporters of the application.
Rushed through
There also appears to be an attempt to rush through the new public speaking arrangements in time for May’s full council meeting, although it is unclear why this is necessary. The paper states that the new rules “should ideally be brought in for the new civic year.”
The clampdown is proposed for a one year trial. The detailed proposals include:
- Introduction of pre-registration of all public speakers (meaning those who have submitted a written comment only) three working days before the meeting
- Minor applications: The speakers entitled to address the planning committee are: a parish or town council representative, two objectors, two supporters, PLUS the applicant or agent
- Major applications: The speakers entitled to address the planning committee are: a parish or town council representative, five objections, five supporters, PLUS the applicant or agent.
Fortunately, the ward member is listed as being to be allowed to speak.
NB. The threshold for a major planning application is 10 houses, and one hectare of land for non-housing applications.
Registration proposals
Speakers will be registered on first come, first served basis. Registered speakers will be advised that their contact details will be posted on the council’s website to allow others, who may have wished to speak, to contact them.
But if speakers only register three days ahead, after which their details are posted on the website (is this what they would want in any case?) how can they get together with other speakers that they don’t know, in time to collectively form their argument? 
And what about those who are not online?  How would they know who to contact and by when?
Agenda order 
Planning applications would 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.

The (paltry) sweeteners 

- Non-committee members are allowed to speak on Part A non-planning application items, limited to three minutes per contribution. 

- A maximum of two public speakers (to register three working days in advance of the meeting) to be permitted on non-planning application items on which DMC is making a decision (this does not include items where a recommendation will be made to council, items for information or items responding to government guidance). To be made clear on the agenda the items on which the public can register to speak. 

Adjacent ward member restriction
- In respect of planning applications, to hear from adjacent ward members or other non-committee members if there is time and subject to chairman’s discretion. 
I have addressed the committee on a couple of occasions as an adjacent ward member and have not been restricted or prevented from doing so. Now adjacent ward members (who rarely speak in any case) may be prevented from doing so.
The authors of the paper insist, that even with the new restrictions, public speaking arrangements are generous!
EDDC receives more than twice the number of major planning applications compared with other local authorities
The justification to cut public speaking rights because EDDC receives a significant number of major planning applications is puzzling. See table on page 8, where it emerges that EDDC receives more than twice the number of major planning applications than any other Devon council.
This piece of information is particularly baffling, given that EDDC is not alone in Devon for not having an adequate housing supply or up-to-date local plan.
If anything the high level of planning applications should be a very good reason for retaining the existing public speaking rules, not increasing anxiety, confusion and bureaucracy by introducing complicated and very restrictive new arrangements.
Unfortunately the report does not appear to have considered the planning committee members themselves nor ward members (some of whom appear to be allowed to speak for AGES – far longer than the requisite five minutes) and the ability to make concise points and hold an effective debate without waffle and repetition.
No public consultation proposed on public speaking restrictions
The new arrangements are so draconian at a time when communities are under such pressure from development and are experiencing much anxiety as a result, that I can scarcely believe what I read in the paper.
The proposed new system must surely be subject to a proper period of public consultation.
Myself and fellow independents will be taking this further.
The development management committee meeting on Tuesday 1 April, where these public speaking restrictions will be debated, starts at 9.30am. 
To end on a final note of irony, members of the public will not be entitled to comment on the paper at the meeting, which you can view here - http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/dmc_010314_wg_report_public_speaking_and_agenda_management.pdf
Photograph: Protesters march on the Knowle in November 2012. One of the reasons for marching was that EDDC does not listen to local people’s views.
1. At 07:22 pm on 26th Mar Norman Cooke wrote:
Strange that councillors can meet with Developers unbeknown to the public for hours on end to discuss proposed planning developments yet the public are restricted to three minutes. Open and Transparent it is not. So meeting have to go on longer, Just get real. If all there was openness and transparency in the first place meeting would be shorter. Present data and information to the public and then the secrecy that is inherent in EDDC and OSMTC processes would be exposed.
2. At 08:58 am on 27th Mar Sandra Semple wrote:
It’s the natural way that dictatorships develop so no-one should be surprised.  But the only way to counteract it now is at the ballot box.
3. At 10:46 am on 27th Mar Susie Bond wrote:
The proposed new rules do nothing to engender democracy ... or even the semblance of democracy ... in the planning process.
I would have liked to have seen the exercise where public speaking arrangements were compared between councils limited to those councils only which do not have a Local Plan in place. The results, I venture, would have made more interesting reading.
The reason members of the public are turning up in droves to DMC is because of the fury at the way planning is having to be decided in East Devon. Developers and landowners are rushing to get their planning applications through the system before Anthony Thickett (Planning Inspector) reports on his findings following the Examination in Public of the Local Plan.
This is no way to make irreversible decisions ... and curtailing the rights of members of the public to air their views is not the democratic way forward.
Personally, I would favour keeping the existing system and reviewing it after a year when (Planning Inspector willing) there will be Local Plan in place. The issue of over-long DMC meetings, which is the reason for reviewing the public-speaking arrangements in the first place, is likely to be a self-limiting problem.
4. At 11:32 am on 27th Mar Val Jones wrote:
Many people who speak at planning meetings, have never spoken in public before.  It’s a nerve-racking process for the average person and not something we take lightly.  BUT, and this is the point of speaking, democracy is being challenged, big business is riding roughshod over the ordinary man in the street, and so we stand up and speak.
This country has been built on the right to speak freely - we pride ourselves on it - it’s part of our democracy.  How dare East Devon District Council try to take this right away.  Believe me, the people have no intentions of fading into the background.
5. At 01:09 pm on 27th Mar Damien Mills wrote:
In a paper that has just appeared on EDDC’s website, the proposed new public speaking regime will be debated at the development management (planning committee) meeting next Tuesday (1 April).
This is an April Fool, yeah?!

See also:
Futures Forum: Fears of losses in accountability at local government level...
Futures Forum: Permission Impossible: Britain's Planners ... Tues 25th February
Futures Forum: Who to blame when everything falls apart: the politics of planning decisions
Futures Forum: Development: 'commercial confidentiality', being held to 'ransom' and developers picking holes in each other’s sites.
Futures Forum: Publishing 'pre-application' advice... making planning application information public... or not
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... continued: part three
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary

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