Debate over Planning Committees
Is two minutes enough for the public to present their views?
“Councillor Ruth Cadbury, Chairman of Hounslow’s Planning Committee, has arbitrarily reduced the time for speakers to 2 minutes for the meeting on 7 November ‘as it’s going to be a long evening’, but this is hardly supported by the facts,” says Conservative Councillor Sheila O’Reilly, a member of the committee. There are only 6 items on the agenda rather than the average of 10-12.
“Local people have always been able to air their views at Hounslow’s Planning Committee meetings and given 5 minutes to state their case. Now, suddenly, without warning or consultation, this been reduced to 2 minutes, barely enough time to even say who they are, never mind why they’re upset at proposals. This is dangerously close to shutting down debate.
Anxious neighbours have often waited months before the application is discussed in the committee and this is their only opportunity to tell councillors how they will be affected. It’s all too easy to dismiss neighbours as nimbies standing in the way of progress, but they have rights too and know better than anyone else what it’s like living where they are and how fragile that life can be.
Is it too much to ask for a meeting to go on a few minutes longer? That way councillors can listen and understand better why people are unhappy, and we will take better decisions as a result. This is a step on the slippery path away from democracy and I urge the Council not to go down it,” says Councillor O’Reilly.
Cllr Ruth Cadbury, Chair of Hounslow’ s Planning Committee criticised misleading Conservative party accusations about limiting public access to the Committee after she made specific recommendations to applicants and objectors involved in five householder applications coming to Hounslow’s planning committee on 7th November.
She said “In fact there will be more public involvement at this week's meeting than is usually the case. As Chair of Planning Committee, I have decided for this meeting alone to make a one-off arrangement to allow all applicants and objectors a fair opportunity to inform the committee members of their case.
For this meeting it so happens that all bar one of the items are householder applications, and anticipated requests to speak by applicants and objectors on all of them. It would not be fair for me to single out the usual 3 items for speakers. So ,I have said that I will allow speakers on any application where there has been a request, that if they all take up the opportunity the time for each to speak is 2 minutes, and that each speaker be invited to provide a written summary of their case.
Questions will be allowed from Councillors to speakers as usual, which adds to the opportunity to provide information and increases the time. As is always the case there is the opportunity for applicants and objectors to email and call Councillors and to invite them to visit the application and/or objector's premises in person. And if there are speakers on fewer applications than we anticipated, I will be able to increase the time available for speaking.”
She went on “I believe my record of chairing planning committee has been one of fairness to all parties, particularly residents not experienced in speaking at Council meetings and that is why I have adapted the normal practice due to the unusual balance of the agenda this time. I would say that provides very significant input from the public for householder applications, and would be happy to compare our process to that of other borough's planning committees.
You can contact Cllr Cadbury at: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 7, 2013