Councillors who were told not to ask new questions at a Planning Committee meeting have called for a change in the way that the committee works.
During discussions about changes to the planning permission for Anston House, in Preston Road, Brighton, at Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee on Wednesday (10 June), Conservative Joe Miller was told not to ask “new questions”.
Before the coronavirus lockdown, officials would give presentations to the committee about a planning application and members would ask questions during the meeting in public.
At the “virtual” meeting on Wednesday, Councillor Miller challenged Councillor Tracey Hill, who chairs the committee.
Councillor Miller said that his understanding was that questions asked in advance by committee members had replaced the “planning briefing”, which was previously held privately before the committee’s meetings in public.
So, he said, he could ask as many questions as were necessary to help him reach a decision on each planning application before the committee.
Councillor Hill said that this was not the case and that there were no presentations because they were “too difficult to handle”.
This was despite other council committees continuing to include visual presentations from officials, including a lengthy presentation to the Health and Wellbeing Board on the covid-19 coronavirus the previous day.
Officials answered Councillor Miller’s questions as Councillor Hill said that she was using “her chair’s discretion” to allow his questions.
Councillor Miller said: “I think in light of new working practices, it is now time to reconsider how member engagement in relation to Planning Committee is dealt with.
“A review of how the committee works is now necessary in my view.”
During the discussion about the improvement works for Black Rock, independent councillor Tony Janio was told that he should have asked questions about transport before the meeting.
He said: “There is a dispute about what questions are permitted in committee.
“If they are on the presentation, they should be asked before. If they are to officers in general on the scheme and need to be kept dry, then they should be allowed in committee.
“This is where Tracey does well but may be slightly too severe! She may be stopping too many questions.”
An unattributed list of questions was released in an addendum before the meeting.
Councillor Hill said “There are no planning presentations taking place in private. Visual presentations are circulated and made available publicly.
“Councillors are asked to submit questions in advance while we are meeting virtually to help these meetings more efficient and run more smoothly as we don’t have visual presentations within the meetings.
“The questions, the responses and all the visuals are made available online as part of the committee papers for full transparency.
“If questions are asked in advance, questions and answers are published along with the late list.
“If questions arise due to something on the late list, or in response to answers which have been given, or the site visit, or during public involvement, councillors can ask these questions.”