Well, I did my best …
The year-long trial for public speaking at planning meetings (DMC) has come to an end and my pleas for the Council to return to the old system of allowing anyone to speak on a planning application have fallen on deaf ears.
Under the old system, all an interested resident had to do was to add their name to a list at the entrance of the council chamber on the day of the meeting.
It was as simple as that.
Now, in order to be able to speak, you have to jump through several cumbersome hoops. Instructions on EDDC’s website and DMC agendas read:
To speak on an application at Development Management Committee you must have submitted written comments during the consultation stage of the application. Those who have commented on an application being considered by the Committee will receive a letter or email (approximately 9 working days before the meeting) detailing the date and time of the meeting and instructions on how to register to speak. The letter/email will have a reference number, which you will need to provide in order to register.
Those who are eligible to speak for up to 3 minutes on an application can register from 10am, 6 working days before the meeting up until 12 noon, 3 working days before the meeting, by leaving a message on 01395 517525 or e-mailing email@example.com.
The trial was instigated because the length of meetings was becoming ridiculously long and (it was suggested) it was members of the public who spent too long putting their points across and, heaven forfend, repeating themselves, which made them so.
My view is that DMC meetings were becoming overlong because of the very many applications being submitted by landowners and developers keen to secure planning consent in inappropriate locations while EDDC had no Local Plan in place. Without a Local Plan and the required 5-year land supply, planning applications were determined on the sustainability of the site … and lengthy meetings were made even lengthier by DMC members trying to find reasons for refusal which would stand up at appeal.
But the hoops are even more complex. The instructions continue:
The number of people who can speak on each application is limited to:
• Major applications – parish/town council representative, 5 supporters, 5 objectors and the applicant or agent
• Minor/Other applications – parish/town council representative, 2 supporters, 2 objectors and the applicant or agent
Whether an application is classified under the legislation as a major, minor or other will be noted on the agenda for the meeting.
An officer will only contact those whose request to speak has been successful. Speakers will be registered on a first come, first served basis. The contact details of registered speakers, unless advised otherwise, will be posted on the website to allow others, who may have wished to speak, to contact them.
The day before the meeting a revised running order for the applications being considered by the Committee will posted on the website. Applications with registered speakers will be taken first.
A report on the public-speaking arrangements came before the Standards Committee in January and then to DMC on 16 February and it was resolved to continue with the trial for a further year with a view to making it permanent thereafter. Members of DMC were asked to acknowledge the success of the trial.
The ‘success’ of the trial is debatable.
It has certainly made planning meetings more efficient and less time-consuming, but the length of time they take is now the same as it was before the introduction of the Draconian planning laws (the NPPF), so the stringent rules on public speaking at DMC are no longer necessary.
Members of the public are outraged at their speaking rights being curtailed and are making their voices heard to their district councillors.
It’s through listening to the views of the communities who are affected by any planning application that pertinent planning questions have been raised at DMC and which planning officers have been required to clarify.
We have created a system which is unnecessarily complicated for the general public to navigate and places an extra burden on Democratic Services officers who run the meetings.
Some might consider that this policy of making it difficult for the people of East Devon to exercise their democratic right is a bad thing and indeed that it reflects poorly on EDDC.