In Wednesday’s Shropshire Star there was an interesting piece from Rebecca Lawrence entitled “Councillors ‘should not be bombarded’.” The article referred to the comments of Councillor Judith Williams, Conservative Chairman of Planning on Shrewsbury and Atcham Council. Rebecca reports that Councillor Williams’ comments were made in reply to an email about the planned co-location of Shrewsbury Sixth Form college and Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology. The Star reports that Cllr Williams as saying that: “…members of the public must not bombard and demand opinions or decisions from members of the development control committee.”
Well I am sorry to say that I was shocked and appalled to read this article. During my eight years on Bridgnorth District Council I served on the Planning committee for two periods and a further four on Shropshire County Council’s planning committee. Public lobbying over a controversial planning application is a vital part of the planning process.
Whilst I agree with Cllr Williams that members of the planning committee are duty bound to not pre-determine an application before they have herd all of the evidence at committee, I dispute her position over lobbying. I was quite happy to be bombarded by the electorate with their views about an application. Whatever the views expressed, they only add value to the process and make sure members are fully aware of all the issues surrounding and application. On many occasions these views, particularly when the decisions are finely balanced, can play a pivotal role in reaching a decision.
Councillors at this level are now paid to do a job and the public quite rightly expect them to earn their corn. Lobbying over applications comes with the territory and for a member of a planning committee this can at times place you in a difficult position.
At no point should a councillor try to dissuade members of the public from seeking to influence the committees decision. Planning is one of the few areas where the public actively get involved with their council. Activity which should be encouraged not discouraged.