Friday, 28 October 2011

Flood forum fair today

Popped along to Scottish Flood Forum Fair at Smithton; lots of information available so I hope the attendance was very good. Had a quick chat with Matt Smith from the Flood team about public engagement - I don't think I was very convincing.

Briefly caught sight of the Minister Stewart Stevenson. No doubt there will be more details in the press with photos etc

More at link here

Councillors had plenty to say on planning committee changes but I am still working out the detail

I would highly recommend reading this post after listening to what was stated at the meeting of the full council yesterday; see web cast (Index Point 8 Governance Review Group 0:43;45).

Many councillors spoke out (the agenda item lasted just over an hour) and I will return to those comments in future posts.

So what is happening now?

Yesterday's posts related the detail (from the Committee Report to yesterday's full council meeting) that stated:

'2.1' being found in committee report here and noting that, "...each Committee should comprise of 11 Members (one Member from each Ward);" - the Governance Committee had suggested one committee for North Wards 1-11 and the second for South Wards 12-22.

However I have just posted the press release covering the changes to planning committees and it now states:

"The *membership of each PAC will be made up of two members from a four-member council ward and one member from a three-member council ward."

"The North PAC will involve wards 1 – 11 in Caithness, Sutherland, East Ross, the Black Isle and Skye. The South PAC will cover wards 12 – 22 in Inverness, Lochaber, Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey. A commitment was given to monitor and review the work of the two new Committees within a 12 month period."

Listing all the wards and noting which are 4 member and 3 member it seems to me that the North PAC will now have 17 members and the South PAC 19.

(*Change to the membership composition was suggested at the full council meeting, as you will note from having listened to the web cast, by Cllr Ross , further to, as he states, 'taking soundings'. An amendment was later moved - which lost on the vote - to have 2 members from each ward whether 3 member or 4 member)

Changes to Planning Committees and Working Groups

From Press Release here

At a meeting of The Highland Council held earlier today (Thursday 27 October 2011) Members voted to reduce the current three Planning Application Committees to two - a North Planning Application Committee and a South Planning Application Committee.

The new structure will come in to affect in January next year. The membership of each PAC will be made up of two members from a four-member council ward and one member from a three-member council ward. Local Councillors will also be able to attend and have a Local Members Vote on any relevant agenda items. In order that the meetings can be webcast, both the North and the South Planning Application Committees will be held in the Council headquarters in Inverness.

Supporting the recommendations of the cross party Governance Review Group, Councillor Ian Ross, Chair of the Planning, Environment and Development Committee said: “The remit of the Group was to review performance, look for efficiencies and put forward recommendations to ensure we can provide the very best service. Financial savings were a consideration when coming to our restructuring recommendations but our primary focus was on getting the best quality of service.

“The decisions planning committees make are increasingly open to scrutiny and legal challenges. In order that Councillors come to decisions that can stand up to robust internal and external scrutiny, access to professional advice and guidance from our staff during meetings is important. Public access to how we do business and come to decisions is also vital. Webcasting allows members of the public, stakeholders, agencies and businesses to follow proceedings wherever they are. As well as being able to watch committee meetings live, archived webcasts can be watched on our website. I believe this new structure will be fit for purpose with local members still very much at the heart of decision making. Another important bonus is that meetings will be held monthly so people will find the planning application process is speeded up.”

The North PAC will involve wards 1 – 11 in Caithness, Sutherland, East Ross, the Black Isle and Skye. The South PAC will cover wards 12 – 22 in Inverness, Lochaber, Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey. A commitment was given to monitor and review the work of the two new Committees within a 12 month period.

Members also agreed with the Governance Review Groups recommendation to consolidate the work of the Land, Environment and Sustainability Strategy Group, the Climate Change Working Group and the Community Benefits Working Group. A new Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group will come into effect from January 2012. Fifteen Councillors representing the political membership of the council will sit on this new strategy group and the chair and membership will be agreed at the December meeting of the Council.

Recommendations on the governance of the Inverness City Committee and its related working groups will be presented to the council once further work is completed.

"The Green Isle of the Great Deep"

I was recently recommended the book, "The Green Isle of the Great Deep" by Neil Miller Gunn

I intend to read the book, but from what I have read about the author and the book so far I am free to wonder what his view would be on the moves by the Highland Council to cut down the number of elected officials on planning committees. This move of course reducing the impact of the most fundamental advantage of 'local' government - the accountability of elected officials to the local electorate for the way which services are provided.

More on Neil M Gunn here, here, and here

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Who goes and who stays?

Update, well I have found my way to the political affiliations page and I note that there is a nice pie chart giving colours for the council's political groups and listing who the councillors are in each group:

Independent group - Blue

Scottish Lib Dems - Cream (I'm using brown because I do not have a cream felt tip)

SNP - yellow

Scottish Lab - red

Independent members group - Dark Purple

Independent Alliance group - Green

So I have made 2 lists - for wards 1 to 11 and for wards 12 to 22 (inclusive) then assigned each of the councillors from the 3 Planning application committees to their wards and then colour coded them according to their political groups.

Now I am trying to work out which of them could remain (if they wanted to anyway) if we had to have a one member per ward and keep a 3 blue, 3 cream, 2 yellow 1 red 1 dark purple and 1 green in each committee of 11 individual ward members. Much more difficult than I thought it would be...

Three to two; who goes and who stays?

The last blog post mentioned the proposal to reduce the number of Highland Council Planning Application Committees from 3 to 2. Well, what does this mean in practice?

According to the Highland Council web site:

Your Councillors are elected to make decisions affecting the whole Highland area. There are 80 in total, serving on 14 four-member wards and 8 three-member wards. The next election is in May 2012.

Details of elected Councillors are available here together withCommittee Office Bearers and Memberships.

The political representation of the Council is: Independent Group (25), Liberal Democrats (20), SNP (17), Labour (6), Independent Members' Group (6) Independent Alliance Group (4), Non-aligned (1).

There are currently 3 Planning Application Committees – CSER, RSL and INBS with, if you go through the list of 80 councillors, 40 of them serving on the aforementioned 3 planning committees, as, CSER, 14 members; RSL, 11 Members; INBS, 15 members = total of 40

Tomorrow the Highland Council will be asked to consider and agree the recommendation (main business in Agenda item 2):

...that, with effect from January 2012, the current 3 Planning Application Committees should be reduced to 2 Committees to align with the two new management areas for the Planning Service on the basis that they would comprise of a ‘North Planning Application Committee’ and a ‘South Planning Application Committee’ as detailed in Paragraph 2.1 of this report;

'2.1' being found in committee report here and noting that, "...each Committee should comprise of 11 Members (one Member from each Ward);" - the Governance Committee had suggested one committee for North Wards 1-11 and the second for South Wards 12-22.

So that would seem to be the current number of 40 councillors reduced to 22. But who would go and who would stay? There doesn't seem to be anything in the committee report further explaining the practical details in this regard (?)

The committee report does include agenda item 3's recommendation to merge three existing working groups into a 'Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group' which could deal with the work of these three groups in future. The committee report notes that:

In this regard, it was envisaged that this new Strategy Group should comprise of 11 Members to reflect the political balance of the Council (3/3/2/1/1/1), the Chair should be appointed by Council and the Group will operate on the basis of meetings being held out with the Council Chamber where possible in order to allow informal and detailed discussion on a range of issues.

So what would happen if we list the 40 existing P A committee councillors, their wards and political affiliations and then try to apportion using North 11 members/ South 11 members one member per ward and 3/3/2/1/1/1?

I am about to try and see if it works out..

Reduction in local democratic accountability?

Following on from the previous post; also the business of the 'Governmance Review Group' on 14th October was:

In regard to the operation of the current three Planning Application Committees...

In this regard, further information had been circulated in terms of the previous and current workload of the Planning Review Body, options for increasing the quality of video-conferencing in future and extending the webcasting facility to the Dingwall Chamber if this was considered to be necessary, the current position in terms of members of the public participating in planning and licensing hearings by video-conference and the cost implications and workload projections for the Planning Application Committees/Licensing Committees.

Following detailed discussion of all of the options as presented, Mr I Ross, seconded by Mrs I McCallum, MOVED approval of the Option to reduce the current 3 Committees to 2 Committees to align to the new two management areas for the Planning Service i.e. North and South Highland.

As an AMENDMENT, Mr B Clark, seconded by Mr G M Smith, moved approval of the Option to increase the number of Committees from three to six on the basis that these would be conjoined Planning and Licensing Committees for the six specified areas (with the proviso that individual areas could opt out of this arrangement if they so chose).

On a vote being taken, the MOTION received 6 votes and the AMENDMENT received 2 votes and the MOTION was therefore CARRIED.

Mr B Clark asked that his dissent be recorded in terms of the decision which had been taken.

At this point, an Options Paper was tabled at the meeting which contained suggestions as to how future Planning Application Committees could be configured. Specifically in regard to 2 Committees, it was suggested that these could comprise of a North Planning Application Committee (Wards 1-11) and South Planning Application Committee (Wards 12-22) with 2 x 11 Members (one Member from each Ward). It was confirmed that these Committees could meet on a monthly cycle from January 2012 with the provision of a Local Member Vote as at present.

During discussion, it was suggested that consideration should also be given to the provision of substitutes and that confirmation as to whether this would be feasible should be provided at the Council meeting if necessary.

Thereafter, it was therefore AGREED that the Option for reducing the current 3 Planning Application Committees to 2 Committees (North Planning Applications Committee and South Planning Applications Committee) with effect from January 2012 should be taken forward as the preferred option from the Governance Review Group as detailed for consideration and final decision at the full Council meeting on 27 October 2011.

So, that's 3 committees with 40 members reduced to 2 with 22 - but more on this in the next post...

Assault on Democracy?

A member of a local residents group has brought the following to my attention:

The Highland Council, 'Governance Review Group', 14 October 2011

Agenda Item 4

Review of Committees, Sub Committees, etc – Update

There had been circulated Report No. GRG/2/11 dated 7October 2011 by the Assistant Chief Executive which detailed the further work which had been undertaken and included the information which had been previously requested by the Group at the last meeting.

During a summary of the report, and in relation to Delegated Powers, it was confirmed that potential changes to the Scheme of Delegation had been listed with the aim of reducing the number of planning applications being referred to the Planning Application Committees

Following discussion of the options for change to the existing Scheme, and specifically the grounds of referral, it was AGREED as follows:-

• Applications recommended for approval where there were objections from five or more separate addresses which could not be addressed by conditions – retention of the status quo;

• Applications recommended for approval where there were objections from statutory consultees, including Transport, Environmental and Community Services and Community Councils, which could not be addressed by conditions – need to continue to try to resolve consultee objections in the first instance and if this could not be achieved any referrals required to be based on material reasons only;

• Manager’s discretion – retention of the status quo;

• In the case of refusals, where a majority of Ward Members so requested (except where refusal was on the grounds of insufficient information) – retention of the status quo;

• Applications in which the Council had an interest – need to continue to lobby the Scottish Government for an urgent change in the need for non contentious applications which required Committee referral to ease administrative burdens, aid performance and prioritise staff resources – also to include reference for more clarification on whether video-conferencing could be used in future in relation to Licensing Board meetings;

• Applications made by an Elected Member or Senior Official – retention of the status quo but with more clarity as to the definition of ‘Senior Official’ in terms of the procedures to be followed; and

• Applications for local developments recommended for approval but which were significantly contrary to the development plan – retention of the status quo.

So what is this going to mean in practice?

Well, as the local group member sees it, ....the Appointed Officer acting under the new delegated powers can now take a decision whether or not a CC object and/or 5 or more objections have been made.

What do you think?

Exploding head

I am very tired and entirely fed up with the whole subject of Planning. My head feels like it is about to explode.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Don't usually recommend this but...

'Wind farms in Scotland'

I wouldn't normally advocate the purchase of anything in particular on these pages however today's copy of the P and J contains a full page map inside which accompanies this front page article. The on line version of this map is found at Windfarms in Scotland (July 2011) which in turn is accessed from this page on the SNH web site.

This article is part of a much larger debate however and I have previously referred readers to the excellent book:

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air
David J.C. MacKay

To quote from the on-line 10 page synopsis:

"We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%...How can we get off our fossil fuel addiction?...There’s no shortage of advice on how to “make a difference,” but the public is confused, uncertain whether these schemes are fixes or figleaves...We need a plan that adds up. The good news is that such plans can be made. The bad news is that implementing them will not be easy."

"We often hear that Britain’s renewables are “huge.” But it’s not sufficient to know that a source of energy is “huge.” We need to know how it compares with another “huge,” namely our huge consumption. To make such comparisons, we need numbers, not adjectives. Where numbers are used, their meaning is often obfuscated by enormousness. Numbers are chosen to impress, to score points in arguments, rather than to inform. In contrast, my aim here is to present honest, factual numbers in such a way that the numbers are comprehensible, comparable, and memorable. The numbers are made accessible by expressing them all in everyday personal units."

The synopsis also looks at five energy plans for Britain and the scary thing is that all these supply-side plans assume that demand has been substantially reduced by efficiency savings in heating and transport. Using '...honest, factual numbers.." Prof Mackay also does a bit of 'compare and contrast' e.g. 'Roof-mounted wind turbines -bad; roof-mounted solar water heaters - 'no brainer'.

I hope blog readers will find this synopsis thought provoking and maybe take a look at on-line book - 13.9 MB accessed at link here.

To quote Prof Mackay again:

This book isn’t intended to be a definitive store of super-accurate numbers. Rather, it’s intended to illustrate how to use approximate numbers as a part of constructive consensual conversations. This book doesn’t advocate any particular energy plan or technology; rather, it tells you how many bricks are in the lego box, and how big each brick is, so the reader can figure out for himself how to make a plan that adds up.

I think we should see the SNH July 2011 wind farm map in the context of the map provided by Professor Mackay on page 7 of the synopsis as Fig 9, Plan M

'Market share loss' for Town Centre shopping locations

'Planning' reports that:

A study carried out by property consultancy CBRE found that town centres attract 47.9 million people – or 79.7 per cent of the population – for "shopping purposes", an increase of 1.64 per cent since 1998, but a market share loss of 4.02 per cent.

Out-of-town trading locations currently attract 5.7 million people – or 9.6 per cent of the population – for shopping purposes, an increase of 61 per cent since 1998 and an overall market share increase of 53.37 per cent.

"Town centres have been boosted by shopping population growth but continue to suffer significant market share losses", the report said.

"Major gains and losses are however limited to a very small proportion of trading locations. Towns with development are diverting trade from towns without. It is not in this respect so much a diversion from town centre to out-of-town as from old shopping stock to new and from small space to big."

The findings of the study are based on The National Survey of Local Shopping Patterns (NSLSP), to which 12 million people have contributed details of their shopping habits.