Labour calls on Westminster Council to allow the public to speak at Planning Committee Meetings

Labour Councillors have called on Westminster Council to allow the public to speak at the weekly Westminster Planning Committee meetings – in the same way as the public are allowed to speak at practically every other Planning Committee in London and the rest of the UK.

In a letter to Council Leader, Councillor Philippa Roe, Labour say;

“We appreciate that, given the volume of planning applications received by the Council, this needs careful thought. However, we believe that this can be managed without difficulty by introducing the following criteria:

• Speakers should be allowed where a planning application receives more than 50 individual written objections or a petition with over 50 individual signatures
• A limit of two speakers per application – one speaking for the objectors and one speaking for the applicant – with a limit of 3 minutes per speaker
• The agendas for the weekly Planning Committee meetings should be organised so that all applications which attract speakers are considered on the same agenda, perhaps once a month. The start of these meetings should be brought forward to 6pm (from 6.30pm).”

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group said;

“We call on the Council to adopt this simple and straightforward change in the way in which Planning Committee meetings operate so that those residents most directly affected by planning proposals (and those promoting them) are able to state their case directly to the Committee members when applications are being determined. This would be a small but significant step forward in the process of restoring public confidence in local democracy in Westminster.”

Over recent months Labour Councillors have asked residents what they think and have received strong support for this, including the following comments:

“I wish to support a move to persuade Westminster City Council to allow the public to express their views at Planning Application Meetings. As things stand the Council members are largely reliant on the Planning Officer`s summary of the objections to an application and on his or her recommendation on that application. Having attended such a meeting recently I felt it would have been more democratic if interested parties had been given the opportunity to speak.”

“We have objected but never been listened to. The whole process is a mockery for those objecting. We have been ignored, not allowed to speak at meetings. No matter what, it seems there is only a semblance of democracy by letting us object…. pat us on the head…. and then go ahead and do what the planners/developers want. It is not a fair process and one begins to wonder what is going on between developers and WC. We have to live with the consequences or move.”

“I completely agree with the ending the “planning gag”. I recently attended a planning meeting. It was a complete sham. All objections were steam-rollered over to suit the head of planning’s agenda. Even public safety concerns, despite having a professional witness agree, were completely ignored. This is an issue that I believe needs to be made public, so everyone knows what is happening at the council. It is completely un-democratic and I fear even worse.”

“We entirely agree that the gag should be rescinded. It damages fair process and allows the council planners to ride rough shod over objectors.”

“We feel gagged, dismissed, voiceless, depressed and continuously defeated. And then we are expected to take the trouble to VOTE! What’s the point? I’m beginning to agree with Russell Brand, which is truly depressing.”

We had just one comment in favour of the status quo;

“Turning the planning meetings into open forums would be a retrograde step. The planning system is already under huge pressure and the time taken to gain a consent is very prolonged. Opening these meetings for consultees to state their positions would create extensive additional delays as objectors and supporters lobbied in the meetings. “

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