Daniel Fulton attended the meeting to make, and ask, the following statement and question:
“Over the years, the public has come to know and trust the Leader for her unceasing commitment to transparent, open, and responsive local government. During their years in opposition, both the Leader and the Cabinet rightfully earned a public reputation as proponents of openness and accountability, and the public’s trust in each of you was certainly confirmed by the results of this May’s election.
In her address to the annual meeting of the council in May 2017, the Leader argued forcefully for the importance of taking decisions in public, in an open and transparent manner that provides residents with opportunities to question and challenge the decisions made by councillors, even going so far as to state, “I would respectfully suggest that in order to earn their allowances from the public purse that the very least pfhs can do is to take whatever decision they do take in public”.
As everyone here is aware, the overwhelming majority of planning decisions made by this council are made under delegated powers by planning officers, who are unelected and completely unaccountable to the residents of this district for their decisions. The one and only moment when the vast majority of planning applications are in any way considered by an accountable public official is at meeting where a decision is made as to whether or not an application will be delegated or not.
Is the Leader aware that it is the present policy of this council is to exclude members of the public from observing the meetings where the vast majority of planning applications receive their one and only decision by an accountable elected official, and furthermore, is the Leader aware that the public is refused access to any and all records pertaining to these decisions, including any meeting agendas, any minutes or other records pertaining to the meetings, and any recommendations or reports and the accompanying background papers that are considered as part of each decision?
If so, will the Leader commit now to taking action to bring the council’s policies in regards to public access to planning delegation decision meetings and documents in line with the principles of transparent, open, and responsive local government, for which she has always advocated?”
In reply, the Leader made it clear that, while Cabinet could not discuss the details of a specific planning application, she shared concerns about the process for determining whether applications in general were presented to Planning Committee or dealt with by officers under delegation. South Cambridgeshire District Council sought to be pragmatic and flexible, and officers always consulted the Committee Chairman and Vice-chairman. The Leader agreed to look again at that process and to make any changes necessary to ensure transparency. She said that, while the Council would be reviewing its Scheme of Delegation, she was unable to ask for additional public meetings. However, officers would consider whether the process could be improved. The Leader was sympathetic to Mr. Fulton’s suggestion that documents at least considered at the delegation meeting should be publicly available.
The Joint Director for Planning and Economic Development reminded those present about the need to guard against the risk of pre-determination.
The Council would write to Mr. Fulton once the review had been concluded.