Thursday, 25 March 2010

Councillors + Decisions = ?

The Standards Commission for Scotland - in co-operation with the Chief Investigating Officer - is responsible for the enforcement of, amongst other codes, the Code of Conduct for Councillors. The Code sets out the standards of behaviour expected of Councillors in Scotland. The Code can be found here Section 7 of this code relates to taking decisions on individual planning applications.

The Commission has issued guidance to councillors and local authorities to assist their understanding of the Councillors' Code of Conduct. This Guidance and Dispensations note can be found here Paragraphs 48-62 of the guidance relates to taking decisions on planning applications.

Both the code and the guidance notes are very readable and well worth a look, particularly since the 'Gurn' has reported an item from the P and J concerning two of our local councillors being advised by the local authority not to play a part in planning debate on windfarms because of their public opposition to the technology.

It seems to me after reading para 51-53 of the guidance - see below - that the guidance does not preclude any councillors holding rational, well evidenced views and bringing these to the attention of the debate. In terms of the consideration of an application:

If an applicant feels that they have provided all the relevant information to support their case; the planning officer is satisfied that sufficient detail has been provided by the applicant for the application to be fully considered and the councillors then have regard to the development plan and all the other material considerations, then there should be no issue. There clearly seems to be and this requires further clarification.


51. The provisions in section 7 are intended to deal with the handling of individual applications and should not be seen as limiting councillors from discussing or debating matters of policy or strategy, notwithstanding that these may provide the framework within which individual applications will in due course be decided.

52. As already indicated, section 7 of the Code deals in particular with planning matters. Councillors have a key role in establishing planning policies for their area and they are fully entitled to express their views or advocate proposals on the making, approval or amendment of the development plan.

53. When it comes to dealing with planning applications, different considerations apply. The Code emphasises the key importance of ensuring that all applications are dealt with fairly and - equally importantly - are seen to be dealt with fairly. In dealing with a particular application councillors must have regard to the provisions of the development plan, so far as material to the application, and to any other material considerations. They must disregard considerations that are immaterial for planning purposes and be careful to avoid giving any impression of bias.

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