Council aims to be open over planning
07:30 02 February 2014
New guidelines aimed at making meetings between councillors and developers more transparent have been unveiled by Ottery Town Council.
The new policy, which comes after a private meeting between councillors and Persimmon Homes sparked an on-going dispute in the council, emphasises that notes taken at future meetings should be made publicly available as soon as possible.
But the document was criticised for not going far enough; with one councillor arguing that members should not be meeting privately with developers at all.
Addressing the town’s planning committee on Monday, Councillor Martin Thurgood talked members through the ‘policy on pre-application meetings with prospective planning applicants’.
He said: “We are aiming to be more open than just about any other council you care to name, so that everyone in the community is aware that our aim is to put information in the public domain at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“We are doing everything that national guidelines suggest, and in terms of openness, much more than that.”
The document states that the council will ‘normally agree to requests for pre-application meetings with prospective planning applicants’ in the case of ‘larger or more sensitive developments’.
But at the meetings, there will be a ‘presumption in favour of disclosure’ – applicants will be encouraged to waive their ‘limited entitlement to confidentiality’ from the outset, and asked to hold a public exhibition at the earliest opportunity.
The majority of members were happy with the proposed guidelines, but the one dissenting voice came from Councillor Roger Giles, who felt the policy ran contrary to public opinion in the parish.
“Stand outside in Broad Street and ask 100 people if they think the town council should be having private meetings with developers,” he said. “You will struggle to find four or five who agree with it.”
“If a developer doesn’t want to meet in public then it’s their loss – it’s in their interest to talk to us.”
He proposed a line be added stating that the town council would not attend private meetings with developers under any circumstances, but his proposal was not seconded.
The policy will be voted on at the town’s full council meeting on February 3.