Follow us on Twitter

Remit of Mo's powers

0 votes

Hi,

Would welcome any advice on the following somewhat tricky set of circumstances our Parish Council finds ourselves in please. Apologies for the long post but thought it best to explain as fully as I can.

Late last year a complaint was made about our Chair to the Mo in relation to CoC breaches re a planning application that had come up for discussion.

We understand the MO has been assessing the complaint for a while. A few weeks ago we had a standard form letter from the case officer for the planning application advising us that we had 21 days for any further comments on the application. The letter didn’t specify what any updates may have been we were just advised to look at the online planning portal (we had already issued our initial response to the application some time ago).

One of our members then asked permission from the Chair for an opportunity to speak at the next meeting regarding the updates they had seen on the planning portal as they felt they were significant and could affect the response we had submitted initially. The Chair did not reply.

The agenda for our next meeting was then published where the application was tabled under planning updates. However, at the start of the meeting the item was then removed from the agenda altogether by the Proper Officer who read a statement from the Chair that the MO had apparently told them that we all as a council could not discuss the application at all whilst they were investigating and that there was no need to discuss the matter anyway since we had already had a discussion when the application was first submitted and sent in some comments at that point, and the Chair has quoted the MO as saying they did not feel there was anything that had changed materially with the application to warrant our rediscussion- a point that several of us would disagree with since we do see updates have been made relating to the application that we wish to discuss.

Apparently, the MO said that the complaint concerned the Council and the Chair (to clarify the complaint only concerns the Chair and no other members of the Council are involved whatsoever, and my understanding is that the MO cannot investigate the council as a whole anyway- so this seems a strange statement for them to have made), and therefore as it stands we have been told none of us can discuss the application and that despite there being to our mind significant updates warranting further comment, apparently the MO says there was no need for it to have been placed on the agenda anyway.

We have no idea when the MO will have finished investigating, in the meantime the 21 days for comment have passed, and several of us are concerned that we have been unfairly placed under some form of ‘gaging order’ when we have relevant comment as to the latest updates to the application. We asked for clarification from the Chair as to what we do given the application is progressing at district level in the meantime and they just said to take it up the MO, however we already know they are very slow to reply to anyone at the MO’s office, so don’t feel we have the time to wait for a response let alone for them to finish assessing.

Therefore we are keen to call an extraordinary meeting but are concerned as to what powers the MO has used to claim that none of us can discuss the application right now (given that no-one other than the chair is part of the complaint), so are we breaching anything to call the meeting?, which we assume the Chair will refuse and then the Chair may well reapproach the MO to inform them of our intent, or they might somehow make a complaint about us for calling the meeting in contravention of the MO saying we are not to discuss the application, hoping the Mo steps in.

Also if we call the extraordinary meeting is there anything the Chair or MO can do to prevent the meeting being held, and would we be making any breaches ourselves by calling it? Since we have done nothing wrong but the Chair seems intent on preventing any discussion until the MO assessment is complete, and even once complete, we still don’t have confidence that the Chair will allow the application to be put on the agenda since the Chair claims the MO said there was no need for it to have been tabled in the first place. 

However several of us feel it's important now certain updates have come to light via the district councils planning portal, that we as a parish council rediscuss it. Our other question was can the Chair successfully seek dispensation from the Proper Officer to attend should they be unable to stop the extraordinary meeting taking place, despite the Chair’s conflict of interest.

Many thanks for all thoughts and apoogies again for the long post.

Rob.

asked ago by (140 points)

2 Answers

+1 vote
as time is of the essence, why don't you as individuals (and not councillors) comment on the planning application.  There is no additional weight given to parish council comments on planning applications so I wouldn't waste time trying to get an extraordinary meeting, I would just comment as an individual resident.
answered ago by (12.9k points)
Thanks for the quick reply, as the site concerned is allocated in our Neighrbouhood Plan, our comments as a Parish Council in this instance will carry a little more weight with the planning officer than comments as private individuals do since we have to say whether or not the application complies with our NP.
The fact that you have a NHP raises a number of other questions. How robust is your plan with regard to the allocated sites? What policies have you in the plan that would prevent this planning application from preceding? Were these quoted in your comments to District? How old is your plan? Once a plan gets beyond 3 - 5 years old then it might be deemed out of date compared to the District plan. When was your NHP last reviewed? Cans and worms come to mind:-)
I would get your individual objections in asap. I'm not convinced that a reply from the Parish would necessarily hold any more weight. Planning is a regulatory process so a legitimate objection on planning grounds should be enough, irrespective where it comes from.
Thanks Caroline, our NP is up to date and there is a very specific policy for any scheme for the site as its quite constrained (heritage and landscape issues in particular). Our p.councils intial response via a majority vote was to support the application but only in principle since it is an NP site but certain info eg ecology was lacking and the site is known to contain protected species. Several of us voiced concern at the time that, regardless of the lacking ecology detail, we still didn't see NP policy compliance in principle, unfortunately at that time we lacked sufficient evidence to prove this. Since then we now have sight of eg the district councils landscape officers report (which objects to the suggested scheme due to harm to landscape that would result) giving us proof that the application would not be in compliance with our NP . Our Chair holds a different view to ours and doesn't want to rediscuss. Hence we are struggling to get the item placed back on the agenda, making an extraordinary meeting appear to be our only chance of getting our intial support in principle updated to what it should have been all along which is an objection on the grounds of faliure to comply with the Np policy that allocates the site.
If anyone has any advice re the questions about MO powers mentioned in my initial post it would be sincerely appreciated as we are keen to call the extraordinary meeting and can't see how the MO has the authority to stop us discussing the application until they have finished investigating the Chair ( as the complaint just concerns the Chair), nor how they had the authority to tell the Chair to remove the item from our agenda on the additional basis that the MO felt that there was no need for the application to have been tabled for a rediscussion in the first place as their opinion was there was nothing that we needed to rediscuss.
I like Mrs Absters very sensible suggestion and there's no reason why residents' comment shouldn't refer to specific policies of the NP.
+1 vote
Two Cllrs can call an extraordinary meeting and the chair can't stop that happening.   Without going into further discussion about the way the chair has dealt with it, I fully endorse Mrs. Abster's suggestion -  send your comments as a  member of the public, as they will count for equal weight as any  Parish Council comment.  I note the rest of the responses, but I should add that it is permissible to report the Monitoring Officer to the Local Gov Ombudsman for failing to deal with  his or her workload in a timely manner.
answered ago by (17.1k points)
Thank you Graeme, we heard back from the planning officer today and were told that the determination of the application has now been delayed due to lack of ecology surveys. We are going to go ahead and call the extraordinary meeting on the basis the Chair can't stop us and we can't see on what authority the MO has to prevent those of us who are not the subject of the complaint from discussing the application.
This also now seems the only way to have the application placed back on the agenda as our requests to the Chair to retable the application have gone unanswered outside of their claim that the MO has said a) we're not allowed to discuss it whilst the Chair is being investigated and b) the MO said there was no reason for us to rediscuss the application anyway - again I am unclear as to how the MO have the right to dictate what planning matters we as a council see as worthy of being discussed nor how they feel they have the authority to prevent those of us who are not under investigation from calling an extraordinary meeting to discuss it. I can see them advising the Chair that ethically perhaps they should not be present due to conflict of interest given the complaint against them but fail to see how that then applies to all of us, so we are going to go ahead and call the meeting anyway.

The planning officer has also said that the application will now go to our district councils planning committee for determination due to the large amount of objection from parishioners. My understanding is that because this will now be determined by committee our Chair will have to give a report at the meeting as to whether we support or object to the proposals especially given it concerns a site within our NP, making it all the more important to some of us Cllrs that we rediscuss and vote again as to whether to continue to support the scheme. Thank you all again for the responses,  I will certainly now look into making a report to the LG Ombudsman since I've not been a parish Councillor for very long but I am genuinely surprised that the Monitoring Officer feels they have the power to prevent those not under their investigation from discussing matters and the power to dictate our agenda based on whether they think specific planning applications warrent further discussion or not. It just seems rather odd to me.
You say "My understanding is that because this will now be determined by committee our Chair will have to give a report at the meeting as to whether we support or object to the proposals..."

You can appoint anyone on the council to represent the committees views to the planning committee, it does not have to be the chairman.
One other point to make about District Planning meetings, is that representatives have to follow strict rules - often on registering to speak and strict limits on speaking time. (2 mins perhaps?). Do check with your DC. You will also be up against some heavy hitters from the development company (often a well healed barrister).
Well things seem to be gathering pace so a few more things to be aware of. If two cllrs call for an extraordinary meeting, the chair by convention normally responds to confirm they will chair the meeting .He may choose to do or say nothing. After 11 days if I remember correctly, either of the cllrs can chair the EGM if the PC chair does not respond. Be prepared to draw up an agenda.  Also the remit of the principal authority MO is to act on reports of non compliance by a Parish or Town Council. It is not to instruct the PC/TC on what activities they should pursue. They shouldn't really seem to influence planning application determination, which it could be argued is done here.
Thank you Caroline, that is very useful information. We will definitely look into seeing if we can select someone else to give the report since the Chair is also head of our planning committee and they drafted the bulk of the NP which makes it very difficult for the rest of us to feel we can have some worthwhile input into planning matters especially when we (and indeed in this case a substantial amount of our parishioners) hold a different opinion to the Chair and the application concerned is for one of the sites allocated by our NP.
Graeme - many thanks for your insight once again. As much as I'd hope the Chair will choose to say nothing, I suspect they will be keen to do as before and begin by making a presentation in support of the application in the hope of maintaining the response issued to the district initially. The difference this time is that we now have proof of NP non-compliance via the reports issued to the district eg the landscape officers objection, leaving the Chair with little other than their personal opinion as head of the NP drafting/steering group to use as support for their stance- that being said, their opinion often seems to be quite persuasive with some of the other Cllrs due to self-professed planning/NP expertise, so we will prepare ourselves for quite a debate.
I have exactly the same feeling as you regarding the MO, to the extent that I may mention this to the LGO when I contact them as the MO telling the Chair to remove the application from the agenda altogether prevented our being able to discuss it during the 21 day consultation period (and potentially alter our comments to the district council at that stage). Thankfully the ecology issue has given us a delay to allow for the extraordinary meeting to take place but had this not occured the MO would have arguably obstructed our ability to participate in the statutory consultation and indeed our ability to revise our comments re: NP compliance prior to the application proceeding to determination.

Welcome to Town & Parish Councillor Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers from other members of the community. All genuine questions and answers are welcome. Follow us on Twitter to see the latest questions as they are asked - click on the image button above or follow @TownCouncilQA. Posts from new members may be delayed as we are unfortunately obliged to check each one for spam. Spammers will be blacklisted.

You may find the following links useful:

We have a privacy policy and a cookie policy.

Google Analytics Alternative