Watchdog to consider new rules on lobbying

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

District council planners will have to declare any ‘significant lobbying’ by developers and campaign groups if recommendations surrounding the ‘negative’ issue are adopted.

Existing regulations say that councillors must, at the start of meetings, publicly state if they have personal or financial interests in any planning applications being considered.

But, if approved, the new rules would mean members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) planning committee would also have to publicly declare if they have been subject to ‘significant lobbying’.

EDDC’s standards watchdog will consider whether to adopt the new rules at a meeting next week.

The committee had previously debated the issue in October after Councillor Claire Wright, ward member for Ottery rural, called for greater transparency in planning.

Cllr Wright warned that EDDC would have to ‘go a bit further’ than other local authorities to address a perceived lack of openness in the planning process by members of the public.

A report to councillors published this week acknowledges that lobbying has ‘negative connotations’, but notes is practiced by both applicants and objectors and is a ‘part of a representative democracy’.

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The report says: “[Existing guidelines] provide for members to report any significant contact with the applicant and other parties to the development manager, explaining the nature and purpose of the contacts and involvement in them, and to ensure that this is recorded on the planning file.

“Members may wish to consider going one step further by recommending that significant lobbying, where they involve a member of [the planning committee], are recorded for transparency within the committee report.”

The report goes on to suggest that any members of the planning committee who have been subject to ‘significant lobbying’ that has not been noted in the committee report, make an oral declaration at the start of the meeting.

The report adds: “It could then be followed with the statement that the member retains an open mind and has not reached any decision in relation to the application.”

The standards committee will discuss the issue at 10am on Tuesday, January 20.