Cheltenham Borough Council
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Agenda item

Planning Committee Size

Report of the Chief Executive

 

**Note-details of nominations to Planning Committee will be circulated separately**

Minutes:

The Deputy Chief Executive, Tim Atkins, introduced the report which sought approval to reduce the size of the Planning Committee from 11 to 15.  He reminded members that the Constitution Working Group (CWG) was asked to review the number of members on Planning Committee in order to ascertain if a smaller number might increase the effectiveness of the decision-making process.  The CWG met in January 2020 and supported the proposal, Group Leaders were then consulted and approved the change which was noted by Council when considering changes to the Constitution at its meeting on 17 February.  The plan that was this would then be formally approved at the Annual and Selection Council in May 2020 when establishing and appointing to Planning Committee, however, due to the Covid 19 outbreak and the subsequent rescheduling of the Borough Elections until May 2021, the Annual and Selection Council was cancelled.  The Deputy Chief Executive explained that the proposal was based on best practice advice that encouraged smaller committees as tending to offer greater consistency in decision making; lower costs to run and better attendance at meetings and hoped that members would support the recommendations. 

 

In response to a member question, the Deputy Chief Executive, along with the Director of Planning, explained that reducing costs was not the main driver for the proposals; but rather that it represented best practice.  Whilst being quorate had never been an issue, Planning Committee meetings were never attended by all 15 members.  The quorum was currently 8 (members) and were the committee size to reduce to 11 this would in turn reduce to 6. 

 

A number of Planning Committee members, both past and present, stressed the importance of site visits (Planning View), which they felt were poorly attended due to being held during the day, whilst accepting that it would be difficult to undertake in the evenings for some 6 months of the year.  Councillors were reminded that ward members were able to attend meetings and address the Committee where an application affected their ward and of the substitution process that was in place, though it was stressed that there was a requirement for substitutes on Planning Committee to have undertaken training and have attended one in three meetings.     

 

Members who spoke against the proposal to reduce the size of the committee, did so because they were concerned that a reduction in members would result in nothing more than reduced diversity of views and were sceptical about the assertion that decisions would be more consistent.  Some of these Members urged caution given the pace of unitary discussions, a decision on which would result in a larger, farer ranging area, with a precedent set by having reduced the size of the committee at this stage. 

 

Those that spoke in support of the proposal agreed that a reduction in size could result in Members having the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of planning regulations and give more in-depth consideration to applications, which would result in more consistent and effective decision-making. 

 

The Deputy Chief Executive thanked Members for what had been an interesting debate and noted the efforts that the CWG had put into the review.  He suggested that the greatest challenge in terms of the Planning Committee was the requirement for members who were fully trained and experienced and that a larger committee size made this more challenging to achieve.  CBC were at the higher end of members compared to other authorities and this reduction did not aim to stifle opposing views or differences of opinion, but instead would ensure the consistent application of planning policy in terms of decisions. 

 

Upon a vote it was

 

RESOLVED THAT 

 

1. The size of Planning Committee be reduced to 11 seats.

 

2. The appointments to Planning Committee in accordance with the nominations contained in the table (as circulated) be approved. 

Supporting documents: