Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Parish councils claim they're being gagged by shorter meetings

PARISH councillors in South Oxfordshire have accused the district council of gagging them on key issues such as housing development.

They have been told that they have only five minutes between them to speak on an issue, irrespective of how many parishes it affects. At previous meetings representatives from each parish have been given five minutes each.

The council has begun strictly enforcing rules on public speaking laid out in its constitution as it does not want meetings to overrun.

The crackdown was revealed before the council’s planning committee met on Wednesday to consider a controversial planning application by Gladman for 245 new homes on the edge of Emmer Green, which was recommended for approval by the council’s planning officers.

The land is in Eye & Dunsden parish, where there are currently 143 homes, but a number of neighbouring parish councils have objected because of the potential impact on them.

Sonning Common Parish Council learned about the district’s new approach when registering a member to speak at the meeting.

Carole Lewis, the council’s chairwoman, said: “It’s outrageous. This application affects seven parishes as well as three residents’ associations in Reading borough but they are allowing only five minutes for all of us to speak.

“It just is not possible for all of us to say all the things we want to say within five minutes. Clearly it affects each parish and area in a different way.”

David Woodward, chairman of Eye & Dunsden Parish Council, said: “The Gladman application is a major one with huge implications, not just for this site but the whole district. The district council is refusing to give each parish that was specifically consulted a right to put across its point of view. Kidmore End, Sonning Common and Eye & Dunsden each have very different arguments on why it should be refused.

“Sonning Common is worried their GPs surgery won’t be able to cope and about the creep of housing towards them while Eye & Dunsden is worried about the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Each area deserves five minutes each.

“I would like to get the chairman of the planning committee to see sense and give everybody a fair chance to make their points. It’s a big application and people need a chance to say their piece.”

Paul Harrison, district councillor for Sonning Common and Eye & Dunsden, said: “Every individual council should be given five minutes. If it was only two councils, I could understand as they could divide it up but this is more than two. By doing it this way it makes it feel as if the decision has already been made and there will be a lot of disillusioned residents who will call foul.”

The district council says meetings must not exceed two-and-half hours plus an extra 30 minutes if agreed by members.

A spokeswoman said: “The constitution states that groups have five minutes to address the planning committee and if more than one person from a group has registered to speak, the five minutes is shared between them. The chairman of the planning committee has discretion to extend the speaking time for groups and individuals.

“The council has a maximum three-hour limit on all its committee meetings to help ensure decisions are made effectively and appropriately. Excessively long meetings do not help the decision-making process.”

The commitee refused Gladman’s application.

More News:

POLL: Have your say