The report of the Director – Development and Economic Growth is attached.
It was RESOLVED that:
a) the temporary changes implemented during the planning pilot be adopted, including a meeting time of 2.30pm to 6pm, with an option for a half hour extension, to ensure that any application presented is determined; and
b) the Constitution be amended by the Monitoring Officer to give effect to the permanent arrangements.
The Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Business and Growth, Councillor Edyvean, presented the report of the Director – Development and Economic Growth, providing an update on the Planning Committee pilot.
Councillor Edyvean referred to the previous decision made by Cabinet in June 2021, to allow a six months’ trial with Planning Committee meetings commencing at 2.30pm, and it had been agreed at Full Council that the trial would be monitored, to assess the impact on achieving a robust structure, which was key for the Borough’s reputation. Cabinet was reminded that the proposals had originally been made in light of a best practice review, and at that time some concerns had been raised over the impact that an afternoon meeting could have, on the committee process, and to the availability of participants.
Councillor Edyvean confirmed that the pilot had taken place for six months and had covered actions to improve the working of the Committee, including changes to officer presentations, and encouraging Councillors to raise points of clarification with officers earlier in the process, together with the change to the start time of the meeting. It was hoped by moving the start time of the meeting to earlier in the day that participants would not feel fatigued and would be best able to consider reports and make optimum decisions. Cabinet noted that greater emphasis was also to be placed on ensuring that Ward Councillor objections had sound planning principles and that consultation comments should be made in a timely manner.
Councillor Edyvean advised that the rationale behind all of the improvements was explained in paragraph 4.2 of the report and it was acknowledged that there had been mixed feedback, with some continued concern regarding the availability of Councillors to attend daytime meetings, and the impact that might have on the diversity of the Committee. Due to the mixed feedback, a survey was conducted of the various participants, with 75 questionnaires sent out, and of the 46 returned, 39 preferred the earlier start time.
Given the positive feedback, Councillor Edyvean proposed the two recommendations in the report, including an amendment to recommendation a) to add suitable wording relating to the half hour extension to ensure that once an application was presented, it should be determined in that session.
In seconding the recommendation, Councillor Brennan stated that she understood and appreciated the strength of feeling amongst some Councillors, and whilst the change to the start time would be challenging for some, it would be easier for others to attend daytime meetings and it was impossible to satisfy everyone. Given the clear preference in the survey, Councillor Brennan agreed that it would be appropriate to implement the new time and stated that from her own experience, late meetings were not the best environment to allow appropriate consideration of applications.
Councillor Robinson agreed that whatever time meetings were held, it would not be convenient for everyone, and he welcomed the process that had been followed, with the pilot, confirmation at Full Council that the changes would be reviewed, and the undertaking of the survey. Cabinet was reminded that the survey had been completed by various parties, not just Councillors, and it was pleasing to note the number of responses, which had overwhelming supported the earlier start time of the meeting, and in the interests of democracy it was appropriate that the changes should be implemented.
In conclusion, Councillor Robinson stated that having attended a number of the daytime Planning Committee meetings, he had noted how well they had worked, and referred to the difficulties faced when attending meetings that ran late into the evening.