The grant of speaking rights to residents at the Planning & Development Control Committee has been a very popular success. Past opposition to this measure from previous Labour and Conservative administrations came from knowing that if residents had full unlimited speaking rights the planning committee meetings would have become unmanageable.
But it always seemed particularly hard to prevent the people most closely affected by a planning decision from having any voice in the Committee itself.
What has made it possible is the highly structured nature of the rights, so residents must notify the Committee in advance if they wish to speak and stick firmly to the tight time constraint of a total of five minutes only to each side of the argument on any particular application. The five minutes allotted gives enough time for the key points to be put to the Committee, if the residents speaking have prepared well.
It is impressive how much can be said in only two and a half minutes if two speakers have to divide the time between them. So far, all the speakers have prepared well and contributed very positively to the discussions, helping to ensure that the Committee is properly informed of the key points before a decision is taken.
This is a measure that a future Conservative-led Council would continue to support.
What I cannot support and view with some dismay is the way in which the Planning and Development Control Committee itself appears to have been sidelined by this administration. We have had two committee cancellations already in the first eight months of the new administration.
What has happened to make the Council reluctant to bring proposals to committee? Increasing resident involvement in the committee – while making sure more decisions are made behind closed doors and things are not brought to committee at all – can hardly be said to improve the democratic nature of decision making.