Agenda item - Chair's Communications
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120.1 The Chair stated that there were four issues as part of his communications that day.
Questions of Clarification to Speakers
120.2 Firstly, he had noticed lately that Committee was spending a lot of time asking questions of public participants. This was right and proper, as it helped the Committees with its deliberations. However, protocol dictated that these questions must only be in order to clarify something the participant had said in their presentation. Of late, some time had been wasted by asking participants questions better suited to being answered by Officers. To try to alleviate this, he was suggesting that in future, Members listened to contributions from public participants, and then let them step down without questioning, but ask them remain in attendance, in case, during the period set aside for questions to Officers, any Member has a question of clarification for them.
120.3 Next, Committee site visits. Some Members had expressed concerns about the reduced number of Committee Site Visits held over the last year, due to Covid-restrictions. Whilst he understood these concerns Officers had needed to balance requests for site visits against national pandemic lockdown restrictions designed to protect everyone’s safety.
120.4 In most cases, Members had been able to visit sites under their own steam. Where a more formal site visit had been needed, Officers had found ways to do that safely. For example, the virtual site visit by Jane Mosely to Preston Park Avenue.
120.5 As Lockdown eased, Officers would expand the offer of Committee Site Visits. A protocol setting out the staged changes had been agreed by the Planning Committee Working Group last week, this would be shared with Members shortly and will come into effect for the next committee in meeting in May.
Virtual Meeting Arrangements
120.6 Members were aware that the temporary legislation allowing decision-making via Virtual Council and Committee Meetings, ran out on 6th May, and the Government had indicated its intention not to extend it. There is a challenge to this reversion in the High Court, due to be held later this month. Whilst we waited to hear the outcome, Officers were preparing for the introduction of face-to-face meetings in June – including June’s Planning Committee. In order to ensure social distancing was maintained, this was likely to take the form of a Hybrid Meeting, with only those who need to be physically present, in attendance, and everyone else able to attend virtually.
120.7 Finally, the Chair stated that he would like to talk about appeal decisions. He would like to draw attention to the outcome of two recent appeals where Members, as a Planning Committee, had overturned Officers’ recommendations and refused planning applications. The role of a Planning Committee was to determine large and controversial applications. Committee Members had to give great weight to Officer’s advice, but the final decision was rightly theirs. Where, after careful consideration and debate, Members disagreed with an Officer recommendation, rightly they overturned it.
120.8 However, a key part of this was the requirement in law, that they acted reasonably in so doing. In the cases of 136 Ladysmith Road (a new HMO), and 23 Trafalgar Street (a new mixed-use shop and bar), the Planning Inspector had ruled that they had not done so, allowing them to uphold cost claims from the appellants against the Local Planning Authority. The basis for awarding costs was that the decision of the Local Planning Authority was unsubstantiated and unreasonable and had caused unacceptable cost to the applicants. These costs, which in the former case had not yet been agreed, and in the latter amounting to £1,200, would impact on the Planning Service’s budget. These rulings served to remind Members of the importance of the decisions they made being judicious, balanced, and above all, reasonable.