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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 07/02/2005
Public Speakers' Comments




Since the introduction of the Pilot Public Speaking Scheme, around eighty members of the public have taken part in the scheme. Thirty-six of the questionnaires distributed were returned, and below is the feedback that has been received.

Was the Public Speaking Pamphlet clear, and did it answer your questions?
Was access to Waverley Borough Council Offices easy?
Did you find it easy to contact a member of staff about public speaking?
Did you find Public Speaking beneficial?
Did you find the procedures in the Committee Meeting clear and easy to follow?
Were you kept informed about the Public Speaking Procedure?
How can the service be improved?
Third parties should be allowed to view planning files.
    (They can and the ICT improvements should improve access)
    Public Speakers should sit where there is a clear site line to traffics lights and the Chairman.
      (Agreed. Speaker position has been changed.)
      Traffic lights in front of the speaker’s table would be helpful.
        (Noted but action above will hopefully avoid need for further lights.)
        Councillors should be able to ask questions of Speakers.
          (This is rarely used but scheme included an ability to ask closed questions to be asked through the Chairman to clarify facts. Need to be careful this does not provide a further opportunity for speaker’s additional time to make their case to the disadvantage of others.)
          Written representations of scripts should be available to Members.
            (Scheme does not permit the submission of documents to the Committee in order to protect members from mischievous behaviour and to limit information to that which is capable of being assimilated Agreed not to change).
            How can the service be improved?
            Would be helpful if the Committee refrained from using acronyms i.e. DC or a list of common acronyms was made available.
              (Noted. Officers considering producing a glossary of common acronyms within the agenda.)
              Godalming Offices – directions to public gallery poor
                (Noted. Signage and access improvements to the Council Chamber being considered.)
                Farnham Locality Office –acoustics were poor.
                  (Noted. Microphones and public address systems unsatisfactory. Report is outstanding with regard to the Town Hall as a suitable venue for Area Committee meetings in the light of, acoustics, space requirements and need to improve presentations.)
                  It is not made clear what is done next i.e. DC.
                    (Recommended that Chairman or Committee Clerk summarise a decision at the end of a debate for the benefit of the public.)
                    Speaker should declare on whose behalf they are speaking.
                      (Agreed. The Chairman should announce the speakers name and who they represent.)
                      Three minute rule is off putting – instead of going to amber at one minute should be amended to thirty seconds.
                        (This is not possible with the current system. No change agreed.)
                        Insufficient time is allowed to be truly beneficial – twenty minutes should be allowed for major applications, objectors to put technical arguments regarding planning and highway issues
                          (The SIG agreed that three minutes are considered adequate for most applications. There is an issue for most major applications e.g. David Lloyd where the number of issues might generate a need for further time or more speakers. This might occur where objectors might have different concerns because they have different relationships to the site. There are issues around how we might define these applications and how we allocate the speaking slots and the time limits for speaking. However the SIG was mindful of the Development Control Consultative Forum initiative and believed this would provide an opportunity on major schemes to fully explore community views. The SIG recommends no change)
                          Where a Parish/Town Council representative speaks in favour or against an application, double the time should be given to whichever side that is speaking on the other side.
                            (This is not considered to be necessary as three minutes is considered to be sufficient time for salient points to be made.)

                            Needs more publicity especially that the scheme is implemented when five or more objections.
                              (There are two points of consideration here. The first is publicity and the second the trigger for the scheme. In terms of publicity the SIG did not believe further publicity is required as the pilot scheme appeared to working and did allow for those people who had genuine community issues to address the relevant committee.
                              How can the service be improved? continued
                              Where five or more objections are received Members considered this to represent a degree of community concern rather than just individual concern. The scheme so far does not appear to have been the victim of gerrymandering as a result of this trigger.

                              In relation to the trigger of five applications it has appeared to work well in terms of the applications being subject to public speaking and to resource management. The scheme is only triggered by objections and not by letters of support. This does not appear to have raised an issue so far but may do if an application recommended for approval is overturned by a Committee. It is not suggested that this trigger be changed.
                              The opportunity to address a meeting composed of different Councillors i.e. a deferred meeting should be permitted.
                                Agreed. Given that the Membership of Development Control and Area Committees vary as a consequence of the substitution system it is important that the Committee making the decision has the best information before it, including views of objectors and supporters. It is therefore recommended that the scheme be formally changed to permit speaking at a committee where an item has been deferred. As a consequence the following procedures be adopted where an application is likely to be deferred.

                                Scenario 1 Where officers recommend deferral as part of their presentation.

                                In this situation it is normally unwise for the Committee to proceed to a decision in the light of this advice. The Committee should proceed to consider the deferment and if agreed the speakers be invited to attend the meeting at which the matter will be considered. If a Member is minded to ask for a site visit that should be revealed and agreed if appropriate at that time in order not to delay the consideration of the application at any future meeting.

                                Scenario 2 Where a Member is pre disposed to ask for a site visit.

                                In this situation the officers should be allowed to complete their presentations but before the speakers are invited to speak the Member should draw the Chairman’s attention to their desire to have a site visit. If this is agreed then the item should be deferred and the speakers be invited to attend a subsequent meeting.

                                Scenario 3 Where an application is deferred following presentations by officers and speakers.

                                In this situation the application is deferred and speakers invited to address a subsequent meeting.
                                  The SIG therefore recommends changing the scheme to allow speaking at subsequent meetings in accordance with the scenarios above.
                                  Further Comments from speakers
                                  Written statement enough did not need to speak
                                  Process was made clear and easy to follow
                                  Waiting to speak was extremely ‘nerve racking’
                                  Members have already made up their own mind
                                  Fully support the opportunity to speak
                                  Further Comments from speakers
                                  It is unjust for the Officers who make a recommendation to be allowed unlimited time and the right to interjection and not grant the same right to objectors.
                                  (Officers have a duty to advise the Committee in an objective way on the planning arguments and the weight that might be put on material considerations. Their role should not be confused with the public speaking scheme. Officers to clarify roles in relevant information sources e.g. the web page)
                                  Public Speaking merely panders to the objectors. It can create a hostile environment within the Chamber. The SIG did not agree that the scheme created a hostile environment. It was recognised that the public galleries were fuller because of the scheme but often the opportunity to speak defused any sense of hostility.
                                  Finding the agenda on the website was extremely difficult. Navigation of web pages is currently being reviewed.
                                  Very impressed – put at ease
                                  Impressed by the clarity of the Chairman’s Instructions
                                  The process was sadly disappointing. The Councillors talked about their own issues of concern and ignored the public views