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Other helpful sources - Mike Kiely on planning committees

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Richard Crawley, modified 4 Years ago.

Other helpful sources - Mike Kiely on planning committees

Expert Posts: 253 Join Date: 07/12/11 Recent Posts

Mike Kiely (chair of POS) put together this short note on planning committees:

 

PLANNING COMMITTEES AND COVID-19

With the current COVID-19 restrictions, planning committees have been cancelled. This position is likely to persist for some time so not determining those applications until the pandemic is over is not really an option. Holding committees remotely is currently unlawful but MHCLG have undertaken to legislate to facilitate this. Whilst we are waiting for this it’s worth thinking about the practicalities of how a conference-call or video-link type committee might work. It is also important to remember that the officers we will have at our disposal to administer any new committee arrangements will reduce (possibly dramatically) so we need to be realistic about what new processes we can put in place; they need to be as efficient as possible.

We need to look at the practicalities of this from three different aspects:

  • The meeting itself
  • Public speaking
  • Public attendance

Authorising the arrangements for any changes that are made to committee procedures should be capable of decision by the Chief Executive via the emergency provisions that are in most Constitutions.

The meeting itself

Having a conference-call or video-link meeting is relatively easy to organise. The challenge is managing a very large group of people. With probably 15 to 20 members and officers in attendance with your current arrangements, it may be worth considering reducing the size of the committee to make it more manageable. Officer attendance should be kept to a minimum. The number of members should also be reduced to the minimum necessary to maintain political balance. This is required to enable the chair to manage the meeting more effectively.

As the meeting will probably be listened to and not viewed by the public (especially if it’s a conference call) it will be important to have clear protocols so that people don’t speak over each other and that people introduce themselves, so listeners know what is happening. The role of the chair will be even more important than usual.

Arrangements will be necessary for handling visual material, but this should be relatively straightforward. They can be distributed in advance as PowerPoint or PDF packs and referred to in the meeting. Some video conferencing facilities will enable them to be displayed during the virtual meeting but you must be sure all participants can do so – a simpler solution may be more resilient.

Public speaking

Allowing any public speakers to join a virtual meeting is likely to challenge the technology. An alternative solution would be to ask the speakers to record their speech (as an MP3 file) and email it to officers in advance of the meeting. This is likely to be better for most people as they can have several attempts at it until they are happy it is right – and under the normal time limit. The only potential downside is there would be no ability to ask questions, but that should rarely be necessary. You could make arrangements for speakers to supply their phone numbers and to be on standby so that any really necessary questions could be done through a phone call.

Public attendance

It is important to remember that it is a meeting in public and not a public meeting. The public are there to listen and that is all. Cheering, booing, clapping and other forms of “participation” are all against the rules and shouldn’t really happen anyway! Accordingly, the public are in effect witnesses to the process. Involving them “live” in a virtual meeting would be impracticable if not impossible. If a live webcast can be facilitated then fine, but as an alternative a recording could be made of the virtual meeting which is then uploaded ASAP to the Council’s website. Such an approach should cover this element of the process adequately and not prejudice any party.

Conclusions

It is hoped that these notes assist in making decisions around these issues. It is essential to design new procedures that are as simple as possible and do not rely on complex technology arrangements. Broadband capacity is already under strain, so telephony may be more resilient. It is also important to remember that the human resources we have to service new arrangements will diminish and possibly do so significantly.