To receive questions from members of the public who may wish to ask a general question of the Mayor, Cabinet Member or the Chairman of a Committee.
The following questions were received:-
(1) From Mr. P. Thirlwall – “Could both the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Planning Board tell him how many times they have voted against officers’ recommendations on planning applications at Planning Board and delegated powers meetings in their present position. If the number is fewer than twenty times each, please specify the relevant applications.”
In response, Councillor Atkin, Chairman of the Planning Board, confirmed every planning application was considered on its merits and judged on balance. The Planning Officers would make a recommendation based on their professional judgement and the Planning Board took strong cognisance of that opinion, but on occasions there were differing views.
It was pointed out that named votes at the Planning Board were not recorded, but on clarifying the position from when he and Councillor Tweed became Chair and Vice-Chair in June, 2014 the Planning full Board had voted against recommendations of officers five times.
From memory Councillor Atkin confirmed that both he and Councillor Tweed had voted against an application in Letwell and a house extension in Todwick.
In terms of delegated powers meetings the Chair and Vice-Chair did not have the authority to overturn officer decisions and only considered those decisions where less than five objections had been made or for example the application in question was from someone employed by the Council or if it was felt such a decision should be referred to be made by the Planning Board.
In a supplementary comment Mr. Thirlwall pointed out that at most since being Chairman Councillor Atkin had only voted against officer recommendations on five occasions, or possibly less, which was far less than the Planning Board itself.
He referred to his own attendance experience where Councillor Atkin had voted in favour of the officer recommendation and other Members of the Planning Board had voted against, which was proven incorrect when the application went to appeal.
Mr. Thirlwall regarded delegated powers meetings as pointless if the recommendations by officers were agreed to. Planning applications were not to be pre-determined and judged on their own merits, but he believed minds were probably made up coming to Planning Board. He suggested the Council give consideration to electing a more objective Chair and Vice-Chair of Planning.
Councillor Atkin thanked Mr. Thirlwall for his vote of confidence and confirmed he probably did vote less against officer recommendations, but he was never pre-disposed to a decision. However, he believed Mr. Thirlwall’s view of delegated powers meetings to be inaccurate and again reiterated his comments as he had above on delegated powers meetings with regards to officer decisions. He gave an example of the process of an application for a site in Todwick.
He agreed that Mr. Thirlwall was probably correct in his recollection of where he had voted against an application which went to appeal, but the decision letter of the Inspector did indicate he agreed with the Council’s decision, but on taking into account the views of the Secretary of State regarding wind turbines, actually turned the application down, not because the decision of the Council was wrong.
Mr. Thirlwall wished to correct an inaccuracy referred to above in that the Inspector dealing with the application had stated in the first and last paragraph that he was going to refuse the application.
(2) From Mr. C. Vines – “Councillor Read made statements on BBC Look North about the convictions of CSE perpetrators and quoted:-
“Rotherham Council have made changes to the political leadership team and all those who should be held to account will be.”
What political leadership has changed and what progress in holding those to account.”
The Leader confirmed the change in political leadership was well observed and understood. In terms of holding people to account it had been seen this week, and later on this agenda, how when a Member of this Council committed a criminal act action would be taken within the Council’s power to do something about it. It was also known that an investigation into a former Member of the Council had been referred to the Metropolitan Police and action taken against them.
Investigations into child sexual exploitation would take a period of time, but the Leader stood by what he had said that where those allegations came forward he would do all he could to hold those people to account. He would not get into speculating who did what, when and why and he hoped that Members of this Chamber had learnt from the experience of others.
In a supplementary question Mr. Vines confirmed he was looking around this Chamber and could see Members of this Council present who had attended the seminar in 2005 and knew all about CSE as recorded in the Jay report, kept quiet and did nothing for ten years. If this was not wrong doing then what was. He asked why had no action been taken against those Members and why were they still in the Chamber and being promoted.
The Leader did not accept the premise of the question that Members had attended an hour’s seminar, did nothing for ten years and were fully aware of the full facts that then came out. Individual people have taken responsibility for their actions. Questions had been asked by the Labour Party and reflected in the selection of candidates and if people had further allegations against individuals of the Council then the standards regime was in place for this to be done. The longer the trawling over the actions of Members who were not leading Members at that time simply took up energy from dealing from the problems being faced today.