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.