This month, both Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster councils have been debating whether to enact procedural changes to the way public speakers address their planning committees. Amendments were proposed following separate, independent advice sought by the councils to improve their planning determination process.
Kensington & Chelsea
On 22nd January, Kensington & Chelsea’s Planning Applications Committee agreed to a four-month trial of minor amendments to their public speaking rules. This will affect speakers addressing both the Planning Committee and Planning Applications Committee.
Currently, supporters address the committee before the objectors speak. Questions are then asked of each speaker after each address only.
A common request came from objectors asking for a ‘right to reply’ once supporters had addressed the committee. However, RBKC felt that this would lead to similar asks from supporters and further ‘tit-for-tat’ requests, thereby being no better than the current procedure.
Therefore, the following order was proposed (and accepted):
- Officer presentation
- Speakers against
- Slot for councillor(s) speaking against, if applicable
- Speakers in support
- Similar slot for councillor(s) speaking in support, if applicable
- Committee questions officers and speakers
- Committee debate
The change accepted refers to action 4. The committee can ask questions of both ‘sides,’ covering any ‘right to reply’ claims by allowing both ‘sides’ to address anything they see as misleading from the other’s speeches in this time. It also ensures that the committee is in control of this period of questioning.
Westminster does not currently allow public speakers to address their planning committees and, as such, their review was significantly lengthier than Kensington & Chelsea’s. The review has been pushed forward by the Leader, Cllr Nickie Aiken, in a concerted effort to make their planning process more transparent and open to public scrutiny.
In short, the proposals for Westminster’s Planning (Major) Applications Sub-Committee included:
- No more than two speakers in support
- One of these slots reserved for the Applicant/nominated spokesperson
- Maximum of two speakers against
- A separate slot for “recognised or semi-recognised amenity society”
- A further slot for relevant ward councillors, should they wish to speak
The suggested running order was as follows:
- Officer presentation
- Applicant and other supporters
- Amenity Society
- Ward councillor(s) and/or MP(s)
- Officers response to public speeches
- Member/committee discussion
The proposed arrangements would give greater prominence to both amenity groups and council officers. It is important to note that officers would be tasked with responding to/challenging any misconceptions that may be voiced by either public speaker. Officers would assume this role, rather than either the committee or the speakers themselves, as occurs in other London Boroughs.
These proposals were put before the committee on 17th January, where members delayed making a decision so further work can be undertaken.
Cratus’ political research, insight and analysis can help to unpick how these decisions impact planning matters in both Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.