Thursday, 10 April 2014

District Council: to vote on restricting public speaking at planning meetings: decision postponed

There had been considerable anticipation around last night's debate on restricting public speaking at planning meetings:
Futures Forum: District Council: to vote on restricting public speaking at planning meetings: Weds 9th April

and after much (lengthy) debate, it was decided to send the matter to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee:
East Devon District Council - Overview and Scrutiny agendas, minutes and remit


2014-04-09 17.16.48-1
10 April
The concerns of demonstrators outside Knowle Council Chamber tonight were also voiced by some Councillors at this evening’s meeting. In a recorded vote (details to follow), the Full Council voted by 26 votes to 22, with one curious abstention, in favour of postponing a decision on a proposed 12-month trial period of what some regard as “restrictive and prescriptive” new rules for public speaking. A proposal by Councillor Claire Wright set in motion a lengthy debate, which led to a majority vote for the matter to be referred for further examination to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Some of the issues, which apply to the whole of East Devon, are described in this letter from a Colyford correspondent :right to speak april 14 .
Full Council refers debate on public speaking to Overview and Scrutiny Committee | East Devon Alliance


10 April
Due to technical problems with the sound system , last night’s Full Council meeting may not have been recorded. So several short reports on this EDA website are intended to give an idea of the meeting, focusing on its most crucial  discussion points.
Firstly, proposed changes to rules on public speaking.
Opinions were strongly divided:
Cllr Button (Lib Dem) said that ” the Council should not even suggest that public speaking is being restricted”,   at a time when public confidence in the Council has been seriously eroded, with East Devon now left with the consequences of having no Local Plan  in place. “You are going to get a backlash,” he warned.
But Cllr Howe (Cons) disagreed. “I think we must restrict public speaking,” he told the Chair
An EDA observer sums up as follows:
‘The aim of the recommendations seemed sensible – reduce the risk of poor planning decisions by preventing overly-long meetings . But the proposed solution was bureaucratic, involving pre-registration, last minute shuffling of the order on agendas, overhead slides projecting planning law guidelines, disclosure of private contact details of speakers (Data Protection issues?), limitation of numbers of speakers supporting or objecting, extra opportunity for applicants or their agent to speak, a new timing clock and lots more.
What emerged eventually was recognition that all that was needed was stronger Chairmanship – reduce duplication, proper reading by members of Officers’ reports instead of word-by-word reading out by Officers, and smarter time management, particularly at Development Management Committee meetings.
The referral back to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC ), made at last night’s Full Council meeting,  could lead in that direction.’
It was noted that Cllr Bloxham  spoke for 27 minutes last night in his first explanation of the new rules. The four questions from the public took less than 10 minutes in total.
The Overview and Scrutiny could bear this in mind when they look at how to overcome the present problem of unduly lengthy meetings.
“You are going to get a backlash”, Full Council is warned | East Devon Alliance

Stormy debate stalls public speaking restrictions
Thursday, 10 April 2014 0 Comments by Claire
A raft of proposals aimed at restricting public speaking at EDDC planning committee meetings have been referred for examination at the overview and scrutiny committee.

At last night’s full council meeting councillors discussed recommendations by Cllr Ray Bloxham’s working group, to limit public speaking which if they had been approved, would have meant the following key rules:
- pre-registration of three working days for addressing the committee
- only those who have commented in writing on an application be permitted to speak
- on minor applications, limits of two speakers in favour, two against, with an additional slot for the applicant or agent
- on major applications, limits of five speakers in favour, five against, with an additional slot for the applicant
At the beginning of the meeting, there was a demonstration with a group of residents wearing tape over their mouths to demonstrate their fears that the public were going to be gagged.
Members of the public spoke against the public speaking restrictions and urged councillors to vote against them.  One resident read out a letter she had written to the Pulmans’s newspaper, which summed up the proposals well.
Cllr Bloxham was the first to address council, with a long speech. He set out his recommendations and argued that they were not restrictions, nor was it clamping down. He said that the conservatives would not “rubber-stamp” the plans, nor would they be nodded through.
He said that they were primarily to address long meetings and many large applications coming before committee.
Cllr Bloxham was not happy that the details of his paper, which I taken from the EDDC website, had appeared on a “certain blog” before he addressed the development management committee on 1 April.  He said that in his view, this was “wrong.”
Cllr Bloxham’s speech setting out the background to his proposals went on for almost half an hour.
Towards the end of his speech he caught sight of Roger Giles, who was smiling, and remonstrated with him. Cllr Giles explained that he had just heard someone yawn. 
“This is not a laughing matter”, Cllr Bloxham told Cllr Giles sternly.
I spoke next, as the independent group had proposed a series of amendments to the paper. Our amendments included:
- scrapping the requirement to pre-register
- scrapping the rule that only those who had written comments should be permitted to speak
- asking planning officers to be more concise when introducing applications
- asking committee members not to repeat each other and be more concise in their observations
- increasing the numbers of people who should be allowed to speak on both major and minor applications, with no distinctions between objectors and supporters
Speaking against the proposals, I argued that the plans had been rushed through at top speed. The first time they were ever aired in this form was at last week’s planning committee meeting.
I told the council that I had asked for them to be called-in to the overview and scrutiny or standards committees, but this had been refused, so the independents had been forced into trying to improve them.
There had been no public consultation on what we viewed as draconian measures.  They were too restrictive and too prescriptive.
I said that pre-registration didn’t allow for people who hadn’t heard about the application. Unless local councillors brought residents attention to planning applications they quite often went unnoticed because only immediate neighbours are notified.
I said that the rule proposing that only those who have commented in writing be allowed to speak could be discriminatory.
I was completely opposed to allowing an additional slot for the applicant, as the planning system was already set up to favour the developer.
Public speaker thresholds are far too low and people may not want their details to go on the website, nor does this help people without computers, I argued.
Cllr Philip Skinner said he was very concerned about length of meetings, but he favoured the paper going before the overview and scrutiny committee.  He suggested more planning committees.
Cllr Tim Wood said that although he broadly supported Cllr Bloxham’s paper, he didn’t like the idea of an extra supporter. He said there should be an additional slot for an opposer instead, as there tends to be more points to be made by objectors, who often object for different reasons.
Cllr Ben Ingham said he supported the amendments as the recommendations were too prescriptive. He said he couldn’t support the printed recommendations and there would be resentment among members of the public if it was supported.
Cllr Douglas Hull was scathing. He said Machiavelli would be “jumping up and down in his grave.” He particularly didn’t like the idea of “first come first served” and described the paper as a “load of junk.”
He suggested that I withdraw my amendments and instead send the paper to the overview and scrutiny committee.
Cllr Roger Giles made points about planning committee members agreeing with each other and making similar points. He said that the most important issue under discussion was the local plan and at this time members of the public were very concerned and wanted their say on applications.
Cllr Derek Button said that as a long standing member of the planning committee, a consensus usually emerged after two or three speakers. He said long meetings were nothing new. Planning officers and committee members should be more concise, said Cllr Button. He agreed that there would be a public backlash if the proposals were voted through.
Cllr Diviani, said that something needed to be done about the length of meetings and he supported the paper. He suggested that the discussions had already taken place at overview and scrutiny and didn’t think anything could be served by taking it back there.
Cllr Helen Parr said she supported the working party recommendations and cited appeals that EDDC had won as evidence of the committee making the right decisions. She asked what more could be added by referring the paper to overview and scrutiny.
I put my hand up to address a point of order. It was incorrect information that the proposals had already been discussed by overview and scrutiny I said. They had never been discussed there.  I then withdrew my amendment and supported the proposal to send the paper to the overview and scrutiny committee instead.
I asked for a recorded vote.
The proposal to refer the paper to overview and scrutiny was narrowly supported by 26 votes to 22.  The way each councillor voted will be published with the minutes.

Stormy debate stalls public speaking restrictions - Claire Wright

Meanwhile - in the wider context of a feared 'backlash' - there has been a record number of complaints directed against Councillors:
£65,000: The cost to East Devon District Council of handling complaints about councillors | Exeter Express and Echo
Complaints more than double over the last year, costing EDDC almost £65,000 - Claire Wright

No comments: