Report number LDS304 of the Chairman of the Constitution Committee. (Enclosure)
1. Article 9 – Regulatory Committees
1.1 That Article 9.1.9 a) (viii) of the Constitution is amended by deleting the existing clause and adding a new clause 9.1.9 a) (viii) as follows:
“Questions may only be put by Committee members to the applicant, an agent and/or a specialist adviser/consultant whether speaking on behalf of the applicant, for the grant of an application, or against the grant of an application. Questions must be relevant to the application being considered and limited to the following matters:
· Anything that they have specifically referenced in their speech
· Anything that is contained in the application
· Anything that has been made in a representation by the speaker in respect of the application
Questions may be asked of public speakers by the Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman but only to establish the source of any material facts stated by a public speaker. Questions may be suggested by Committee Members to the Chairman who may put the question to the speaker if they are felt, by the Chairman, to be relevant.”
1.2 Article 9.1.9 a) (v) be amended to read
Each person is allowed to speak for a maximum of three minutes and may be required to answer questions in accordance with Article 9.1.9 (a) (viii).
2. Article 16 – Officers
2.1 That Article 16 be amended to include the words shown underlined below:
That the Chief Executive is delegated with authority:
In liaison with the Leader of the Council, to authorise officers who are suitably trained and qualified to carry out functions when the authorised post becomes vacant or ceases to exist.
The Chairman of the Constitution Committee presented report number LDS304, which summarised the recommendations that the Committee made at its meeting on 4 June 2018. The recommendations related to the questioning of public speakers at Development Management Committee meetings and an amendment relating to delegations to officers. The proposals were seconded.
During debate, Members speaking against the proposals regarding the questioning of public speakers at meetings of the Development Management Committee felt that they had been introduced to deal with matters that could be dealt with by the Chairman in his management of the meeting. They felt that members of the public who gave up their time should be able, and would expect, to answer basic questions. It was also suggested that, as non-experts, Committee members could find it difficult to make judgements on applications and being able to ask questions helped them in this role.
An amendment was proposed that recommendations 1.1 and 1.2 be replaced with the following:
“That the item [questioning of public speakers at Development Management Committee meetings] be referred back to the Constitution Committee with a request that further research is done as to whether members of the public would welcome questions from members of the Development Management Committee.”
The amendment was seconded. The proposal set out at 2.1 remained as originally put.
Some Members expressed support for the amendment, sharing their experiences on the Committee and their view that having the opportunity to answer questions was welcomed. They stated that canvassing public opinion could easily be carried out by asking a question of anyone who contacted the Council to register to speak. The argument was also made that questioning public speakers may make them feel less daunted than making a speech to Committee and gave them a chance to put forward anything that they may have forgotten or were too nervous to put forward. Some concern was also expressed that the Council’s website did not list the full range of material planning considerations. One Member added that to support committee members in making decisions, they were working with planning officers and the Chairman to produce a simple guide that could be used as a reference to guide Members on what constituted material considerations.
Other Members with experience of serving on the Committee gave their opinion that a lot of the questions asked were not relevant to material planning considerations. They also stated that they felt that the pilot, which had run since November 2017 had worked well.
On being put to the vote, the amendment was lost and debate returned to the substantive motion.
Members speaking in support of the proposal expressed concerns that sometimes Members’ questions could be leading or they could be perceived by some speakers as aggressive. They said that any question must be essential to the decision-making process and a way of ensuring that was by putting them through the Chairman. An example was given of how questioning could be used to test the provenance of information.
It was accepted that public speakers sometimes referred to matters that weren’t material considerations, but committee members were trained to recognise those matters that were. The view was expressed that the public should take part and be able to put forward any information to support their case and Members would filter those matters that were relevant.
A request was made that a recorded vote be taken. As the request was supported by ten members of the Council, in accordance with article 4.13.4 of the Council’s Constitution, a recorded vote was taken:
Councillor K Cooke
Councillor R Cooke
Councillor Dr Moseley
Councillor Jacky Smith
Councillor Judy Smith
Councillor A Stokes
Councillor I Stokes
Councillor Brenda Sumner
Councillor Brian Sumner
Councillor L Wootten
Councillor R Wootten
The proposition was carried.
The Chairman left the meeting and the Vice-Chairman took the Chair.