Friday, 16 January 2015

Transparency and lobbying: District Council to consider report re 'significant lobbying': Tuesday 20th January

There have been considerable efforts by independent Cllr Claire Wright to allow for more transparency when it comes to declarations of lobbying:
Futures Forum: Transparency and lobbying: District Council "agrees with the principle" of "declaring any contact with developers or campaign groups"

The District Council's Standards Cttee is to look at proposals next week:

Watchdog to consider new rules on lobbying

13:43 16 January 2015 Harvey Gavin

District council planners will have to declare any ‘significant lobbying’ by developers and campaign groups if recommendations surrounding the ‘negative’ issue are adopted.

Existing regulations say that councillors must, at the start of meetings, publicly state if they have personal or financial interests in any planning applications being considered. But, if approved, the new rules would mean members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) planning committee would also have to publicly declare if they have been subject to ‘significant lobbying’.

EDDC’s standards watchdog will consider whether to adopt the new rules at a meeting next week.

The committee had previously debated the issue in October after Councillor Claire Wright, ward member for Ottery rural, called for greater transparency in planning. Cllr Wright warned that EDDC would have to ‘go a bit further’ than other local authorities to address a perceived lack of openness in the planning process by members of the public.

A report to councillors published this week acknowledges that lobbying has ‘negative connotations’, but notes is practiced by both applicants and objectors and is a ‘part of a representative democracy’.

The report says: “[Existing guidelines] provide for members to report any significant contact with the applicant and other parties to the development manager, explaining the nature and purpose of the contacts and involvement in them, and to ensure that this is recorded on the planning file.

“Members may wish to consider going one step further by recommending that significant lobbying, where they involve a member of [the planning committee], are recorded for transparency within the committee report.”

The report goes on to suggest that any members of the planning committee who have been subject to ‘significant lobbying’ that has not been noted in the committee report, make an oral declaration at the start of the meeting. The report adds: “It could then be followed with the statement that the member retains an open mind and has not reached any decision in relation to the application.”

The standards committee will discuss the issue at 10am on Tuesday, January 20.

Watchdog to consider new rules on lobbying - News - Sidmouth Herald

This is from Cllr Wright's blog, with comments:

Councillors to consider new rules over lobbying on planning applications

Thursday, 15 January 2015 1 Comment by Claire

EDDC’s standards committee will debate proposed new rules on lobbying which would mean that planning committee members must disclose “significant” lobbying.

The matter, which will be discussed at Tuesday’s standards committee meeting, has been rumbling around for years, as I have been pursuing the issue with some alacrity, but there appears to have been some reluctance to agree to my suggestions of having an item on planning committee agendas for councillors to declare whether they have been lobbied on planning applications.

I lodged a motion about a year ago, after I had no luck at getting the standards committee to address the issue previously. Here is the account of that motion, which caused much confusion among the Conservative group - 
But what IS lobbying? Confusion breaks out over motion to encourage greater openness - Claire Wright

The thorny topic was then bounced to the standards committee, which chewed it around for several meetings, before this report was published in time for Tuesday’s meeting.

The report with Tuesday’s agenda papers states: “The Members at Development Management Committee currently make individual declarations of interest at the beginning of meetings. These declarations most usually cover personal interests under the member Code of Conduct. If a member has been subject to significant lobbying, and that has not been noted in the committee report (perhaps because it has happened after the report was prepared) then a simple declaration could be made to that effect at the meeting if members consider it would add value to the process.”

This is an excellent step forward. After the lengthy police investigation into the activities of former Cllr Graham Brown (which has since been dropped) I do think that the council needs to go that extra mile to counter any negative perceptions and suspicions of its planning process.

There will probably need to be a more tightly defined meaning of “significant” but the two years of pushing to get a bit more transparency at EDDC on lobbying on planning matters was worth it.

The matter will be discussed at next Tuesday’s (20 January) standards committee meeting at 10am. Here’s the agenda -http://new.eastdevon.gov.uk/media/703632/200115-combined-standards-agenda.pdf


1. At 11:30 am on 16th Jan Sandra Semple wrote:

Guess: further delay till after election and then dropped if they are the majority again. These people have too much to lose and too much to keep quiet. Several councillors appear to be also developers or landowners in their own right and they enjoy the company of those like them.

Councillors to consider new rules over lobbying on planning applications - Claire Wright.

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