To agree the public minutes and summary of the meeting held on 15 December 2020.
The Committee considered the public minutes and summary of the meeting held virtually on 15 December 2020 and approved them as a correct record.
Anonymisation of Member Comments/Contributions in Minutes (page 3) – A Member commented that the minutes recorded that, at the last meeting, for reasons of transparency, he had proposed that Members contributions and votes should cease to be anonymised in the minutes of all meetings of this Committee. He noted that under the Committee’s list of Outstanding Actions at Item 8 of today’s agenda, a report on this proposal was due to be brought to this Committee in February 2021 before then being referred to the Policy and Resources Committee for consideration. He stated that he felt that making this the subject of an Officer’s report was inappropriate given that this was not a momentus decision and would be reversible if necessary. It would also make this the kind of sclerotic that was heavily criticised in the recent Governance Review. He therefore proposed that this Committee take a decision on the matter now given that the arguments around making minutes more transparent were well aired at the last meeting and that the only real argument against doing so that had been aired so far concerned the risk of Members grandstanding. He suggested that if there were now any new arguments for or against this proposal, Members state them now. He concluded by stating that his proposal was that, for the sake of transparency, the practice of anonymising Members’ contributions and votes in the minutes be ended for this and subsequent meetings of this Committee.
A Member responded to the proposal by thanking the original speaker for providing the Committee with prior notice of his proposal via email. He stated however, that he felt that this was entirely premature and sought to undermine due process given that the Committee had already agreed, at its last meeting, to ask for an Officer’s report to guide deliberations on this issue. This report would also seek to cover the practice adopted in other local planning authorities and was due to be presented in February 2021.
Another Member spoke to agree with the fact that the Committee should not be seeking to undo what had already been agreed at its last meeting and that this proposal was therefore premature. She added that the recommendations arising from the Governance Review would also be looking at a number of matters in relation to this Committee and that this might also be picked up at this time. She concluded by stating that she felt that it should not be for a single Committee to determine the house style of minutes for the City Corporation at large.
A Member spoke to state that she had always been wary of Members grandstanding in the past but was confident that this should no longer be an issue when weighed against the need for transparency. She stated that she was therefore in favour of naming Members in minutes and felt that this should be easily achievable.
Another Member stated that he too was of the view that this proposal was an attempt to undo what had been agreed at the last meeting and the process that had already been set in motion and should therefore be seen through to its natural conclusion. He noted that this Committee was predicted to have a heavy workload this year and stated that he felt that revisiting this matter at this particular meeting set a poor tone in terms of meeting management when the Committee should be focused on the applications before them.
Another Member spoke to state that, whilst she had not been present at the last meeting, she did not believe that this should be the subject of an Officer report and that she had already viewed the website of other local authorities and could see that some did name Councillors in the minutes of their Planning Committee meetings. She did not believe that a report was an efficient use of Officers time. In terms of house style, the Member went on to say that there were some inconsistencies here with the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of Committees often named in minutes meaning that there was not anonymity in place for all. She added that there was also a risk of inequality given that there were so few women who sat on some bodies, particularly on this Committee’s Sub Committees, and that they may therefore be more readily identified with the use of the pronoun ‘she’. She asked that if there were to be a future report on the matter, this also be taken into account. She concluded by stating that she would, however, be keen for the Committee to take a decision on this matter now so as to avoid wasting any further time on the matter and that she was in favour of removing anonymisation.
Another Member spoke to highlight that this matter had been discussed at length at the last meeting of this Committee where a decision had been taken and should be adhered to. He added that he was personally content for his own voting intentions to be recorded going forward.
The Member who had made the proposal spoke again to underline that what the City Corporation regarded as process had been heavily criticised in the recent governance review. He commented that this was not a matter that should require a significant amount of time to be spent on it as he was of the view that a decision could be taken on this now. He suggested that looking at practice elsewhere in other local authorities would provide evidence of a mixture of approaches with regard to the anonymisation of Members in minutes which would not prove to be of any use to this Committee in reaching its decision. He added that local authorities had also been heavily criticised for their poor planning standards and that the City Corporation should not therefore be trying to take their lead from them. The Member added that he had hoped that this matter could be dealt with without the need for a formal Motion and vote to discern the will of the Committee. He noted that no Member had spoken to suggest that they objected to having their name recorded in the minutes and that this matter should therefore just be agreed upon now.
The Motion was seconded.
The Town Clerk intervened on a point of order to advise that the Committee were not able to take a decision on this matter unilaterally but could vote on putting a recommendation on the matter to the Policy and Resources Committee given that this was a corporate-wide governance and administrative issue which currently sat within the terms of reference of the Policy and Resources Committee who were tasked with reviewing and coordinating governance and the overall administration of all Committees. The Committee could vote on such a recommendation now without awaiting an Officers report and wider debate on the matter if they so wished.
The Member responded to state that he felt that his Motion, as put, should proceed and that, if Policy and Resources were of the view that this was ultra vires this could be decided upon subsequently.
In response to a question from the Chair, the Town Clerk reported that legal advice had been obtained to support the notion that this Committee did not have the power to act unilaterally on this and that the matter would require the approval of the Policy and Resources Committee. The Town Clerk recognised that there may well be sound reasons for this Committee being treated differently than others or, indeed, a wider case for all Committees to adopt the same approach but that, nevertheless, the coordination of this was within the terms or reference of the Policy and Resources Committee.
The Chair therefore asked the Member if he was content to amend his Motion in line with this advice.
The Member questioned why he not been provided with this advice prior to the meeting given that he had sent advance notice of his proposal.
The Chair commented that he did not think it was good practice for a Committee to be considering a Motion that was proposing action that was not within its powers and therefore proposed, under Standing Order 29(1), that the Motion, as currently put, should not be put.
The Member who had proposed the Motion stated that he did not accept that this was ultra vires but reluctantly altered his Motion.
MOTION: - The Member moved that, for the sake of transparency, a recommendation be put to the Policy and Resources Committee requesting that the practice be ended of anonymising Members contributions and votes in the minutes of this and subsequent meetings of this Committee.
The Motion was seconded and put to the vote.
Votes were cast as follows – IN FAVOUR – 11 votes*
OPPOSED - 16 votes
There was one abstention.
*A number of Members who had voted in favour of the Motion asked that their names be recorded as having done so in accordance with Standing Order No 38 – those Members were as follows – Randall Anderson, Mark Bostock, Deputy Peter Dunphy, Helen Fentimen, Marianne Fredericks, Graeme Harrower, Natasha Lloyd-Owen, Deputy Brian Mooney (Chief Commoner),Barbara Newman and Susan Pearson.
The Chair clarified that a report on the matter would still be brought to the Committee in February 2021 noting that a substantial minority of Members had voted in favour of the Motion.
Questions to the Chair at the last meeting (page 5) – A Member highlighted that he had asked two questions of the Chair at the last meeting – one as to why he had not ruled the Motion put with regard to 150 Aldersgate Street as premature in accordance with Standing Order 37(3) and the other regarding the use of urgency procedures – both of which the Chair had undertaken to respond to in writing. The Member reported that he had received a response from the Chair yesterday afternoon and had subsequently circulated his response to this to the whole Committee this morning. He also then took the opportunity to read through his comments. He stated that the Chair had responded to suggest that he did not believe that the Motion with regard to the application on 150 Aldersgate Street had been premature taking into account all of the circumstances but that he wanted to challenge this given that there were still a number of questions that had been asked of Officers that were unanswered as well as some Members who had new points to raise but had not been allowed to make them when the Motion was put. He therefore sought an undertaking from the Chair that, in future, the Member proposing that the question now be put when Members questions have not been answered and some Members may not have spoken for the first time, he would exercise his discretion to disallow that Motion being put at that particular time.
Secondly, the Member referred to the use of urgency procedures and stated that, at the meeting on 17 November 2020, the Chair had said that he and the Deputy Chairman had trimmed that meeting’s agenda considerably from what it had been and stated that more decisions would be taken using urgency procedures which would be transparent and reported back to the Committee on agenda management efficiency grounds. In a letter sent by several members of the Committee on 24 November, it was asked that the Chair explain how this proposal would not be an abuse of the urgency procedure which exists to deal with matters that cannot wait until the next meeting, not to reduce the number of items on the agenda as meetings may last for too long. The Member noted that the Chair’s recent written response on this simply set out the criteria used for the urgency process and made no reference to it being used as a way of managing the length of meetings as the Chair had suggested. The Member therefore requested that the Chair did not use the urgency procedure differently to how it had always been used which would render the statement that he had made at the meeting on 17 November 2020 redundant.
The Chair thanked the Member for raising these points and undertook to respond to both of them in writing prior to the next scheduled meeting of the Committee.
Stopping-Up Orders and Virtual Reality (VR) Square Mile (page 13 and page 20) – A Member spoke to state that she felt that providing Members with a sense, graphically, of what cumulative changes had happened to public highways as a result of approved planning applications would be beneficial – particularly at a time when space for pedestrians was arguably more important than ever. The Member added that only providing public access to highway space at certain times only was very different to providing unfettered access at all times and suggested that she felt it important for Members to be able to take stock of this. She questioned whether a future report could be provided on this matter or whether it might be suitable to add to the Committee’s list of Outstanding Actions. Any future decisions could also then be added into the modelling for completeness and help to inform the Committee’s deliberations.
The Chair suggested that, as this was a hybrid of both highways and planning functions, Officers should give further consideration to the proposal and suggest how best it might be responded to. The Chair also took this opportunity to remind the Committee of the Member training sessions that were now being offered before scheduled meetings – the first of which had taken place this morning, focusing on ‘Healthy Streets’ and had tackled some of these issues.
Thermal Comfort Guidelines (page 15) – The Member noted that these had been adopted in terms of a planning advice note but stated that she was conscious that whole-life carbon, in terms of the BREEM guidance and requirements, wasn’t accounted for in this way. She questioned whether it would be possible to adopt a Whole-Life Carbon Guideline as a planning advice note and taking this into account in a formal way. The Chair noted that the Member had raised this point previously and stated that he also felt that it was a point now being echoed by developers and their advisors. The Chair asked that the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director respond to the Member on this point and consider how best to bring the matter back to the Committee.