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Councillors ‘warned’ to vote in line with recommendations ahead of planning meetings

30 Nov '18

Lewisham Councillors ‘warned’ to vote in line with recommendations ahead of planning meetings - my latest story: via @BBCNews’ Get involved
Bridie Witton
Local Democracy Reporting Service

A Lewisham councillor has claimed he and colleagues are being “warned” by council staff to vote in line with their recommendations ahead of public planning meetings.

Lewisham Council holds public meetings where decisions on planning applications are made.

Council staff prepare reports in which they set out whether an application breaches planning standards, with a recommendation on whether it should be approved.

They also attend the meetings to answer councillors’ questions about the applications.

Speaking at a full council meeting, Cllr Liam Curran, who sits on the council’s main planning committee, said councillors had been “warned” against deviating from council officer recommendations.

Mr Curran asked whether this could be looked into as part of the council’s democracy review – work a group of councillors is undertaking to enhance transparency, openness and increase public involvement in council decisions.

“This question is to highlight the key and vital role of backbench councillors on planning committees and to challenge the fact that at planning committee, councillors are warned against voting against officer recommendations on the committees,”

Cllr Curran said. “There is no point in councillors being on the committee if they cannot adjudicate on councillor recommendations, and from time to time might find they have made mistakes.

“Planning like law can go either way and councillors can decide which way – that is their role.

“Will mayor and cabinet consider this as part of the democracy review to ensure councillors aren’t put into this position?” he asked.

Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan said councillors did not have to agree with council staff’s recommendations.

30 Nov '18

Since Lewisham became a one-party council with a new Mayor, there have been signs of autocracy.

Notice how many of their tweets are now campaigning on national partisan issues rather than local issues. Are they using the council as a platform for party activism?

30 Nov '18

This brings up some interesting, infuriating situations. So much time is being taken up rushing to support the campaigns of every Labour candidate south of Watford, it is affecting the time available to sort out basic local problems.

Is there any obligation on councils to separate politics from the corporate activity? I have no idea, but would love to hear from someone who does know…

Back to the planning issue though, pre-determining planning committee decisions means objectors are ignored. Written objections are not put online, so we can’t be sure they are properly considered. Officers don’t have time to visit sites, so theirs are largely desktop decisions. @LewishamCouncil #olspn #Sydenham