Working for Wiltshire - All Year Round
Published on Wednesday 23rd May 2012
Councillors are required to come to Planning Committee meetings with an open mind. At Tuesday's Wiltshire Council meeting Liberal Democrats proposed to ban the practice of Party Political groups getting together beforehand to discuss items on Planning Committee agendas. The pre-meeting practice was defended at the Council meeting by a number of North Wiltshire Tories, including the Chair, Cllr Tony Trotman and Cllr Toby Sturgess, a Council Cabinet member. The Tories used their majority to reject the proposal by 52 votes to 19.
These private political pre-meetings have become a feature of the North Wiltshire planning process, where Tory Councillors are in a large majority. Liberal Democrat Cllr Bill Douglas proposed the amendment which would have banned party political groups from having these closed discussions in advance of planning decisions. "All planning decisions should only be made in full view of the public with no possible suspicion of backroom deals beforehand. It is genuinely shocking that this simple proposal to make the planning process more open was rejected by Wiltshire Tories."
Cllr Jon Hubbard, Liberal Democrat Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, fully supported Cllr Douglas's proposal. "We cannot know of course what goes on behind these closed doors, but the public have every right to be concerned. Councillors are accountable to them for the planning decisions they make, and they should make those decisions only in open meetings."
Cllr Chris Caswill, Monkton ward Councillor, said "I have been to too many North Wiltshire Planning meetings where the Tories have their private pre-meetings and then come out to vote together as a block, after very little discussion. Banning these secret meetings is an absolutely necessary step towards improving public confidence in the planning process. "