For the next four months, a team of three councillors will make the most urgent planning decisions.
Brighton and Hove City Council’s three party leaders agreed one councillor from each of the Labour, Green and Conservative groups will make urgent decisions rather than leave them to officers.
Three councillors sitting as the Planning Committee on Monday, 23 March, agreed to create the urgency sub-committee to decide on any major developments that need a decision during the Coronavirus (Covid19) pandemic emergency.
At the moment all planning decisions made by councillors must be made by members present in the council chamber or committee room.
Until new laws come into place it is illegal to vote remotely or by proxy.
Council legal boss Abraham Ghebre Ghiorghis told the stripped down committee of Labour’s Tracey Hill, Green Sue Shanks and Conservative Joe Miller, these are “unusual times”.
He also said planning discussions must be held in public so people can see the decision-making process.
Committee chair, Councillor Hills said she wanted members to have the chance to discuss issues in a wider group because planning is not political.
She said: “Planning is the only committee which doesn’t operate in terms of the groups where you have the opportunity to seek the views of the wider group.
“Three people can make a decision based on what they think. I want more people making the decision one way or another. We need to explore what we can do.”
Green councillor Sue Shanks said she wanted to hear other committe members’ opinions after feeling nervous when she ended up being the deciding vote on a development of student flats in Hollingdean Road.
She said: “I’m happy to have the urgency committee, but when you have the three of us it makes a difference to your decision making. I feel quite exposed.
“In a committee of ten you can hide behind others on a five to four vote. We need safety of decision making.”
Councillor Miller said he felt uncomfortable with a three-member urgency committee making decisions on major projects.
He said: “My preference would be to have a virtual meeting and officers exercise the decision. That would help members who are self-isolating or are over 70, to be present at those meetings.
“If work could be done to make that possible, I appreciate it might be difficult.”
Major applications, such as the redevelopment of Preston Barracks in Lewes Road and the former American Express building in Edward Street, always go before the Planning Committee.
Minor applications, such as the recent proposals to build a house on former pub garden at the Dyke pub in Dyke Road, go before the committee when there are enough objections, or letters of support should officers want to refuse a scheme.
The majority of planning decisions are made by council officers as they are usually minor and not controversial.
During the current coronavirus crisis, public access to council meetings held at Hove Town Hall will be limited to those directly involved.
The majority of public meetings are webcast on the authority’s website present.brighton-hove.gov.uk/mgListCommittees.aspx?bcr=1
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