05.04.18…..Yesterday at the Planning Committee a somewhat cowed panel of councillors, along with a small contingent of Hove Library supporters and ward Cllr Andrew Wealls were put in their place and taught a very harsh lesson by Brighton & Hove City Council officers. The Scheme of Delegation was their instrument of torture and emasculation on the day – a scheme councillors themselves had agreed and were now left to choke on as a few tentative questions about the delegated Hove Library decision came forward in the wake of Christopher Hawtree’s public question.
There are two ways decisions get taken in local authorities – by elected councillors voting in Cabinets or Committees (unqualified amateurs/politicians) using officer advice to judge, or, by paid, employed, ‘experts’ trained in various Council functions using their Delegated Powers.
Councillors AGREE these schemes of delegated powers and CHOOSE which decisions will be left to officers under what circumstances. This is in deference to expertise they recognise they do not themselves have or wish to learn to comparable level. It is also about sheer laziness in some cases. After all, being a councillor is not intended to be a full time job. Typically, a councillor will log a claim of 20-25 hours a week. Exceptional ones do double that. And they are few and rare.
The Scheme of Delegation puts an enormous responsibility and a lot of power in the hands of officers which the public are not typically aware of. Yesterday, trust in the Brighton & Hove City Council agreed Scheme of Delegation died.
In my previous two posts here I wrote about the Labour Administration’s plans for Hove Library and how the officers ruthlessly avoided taking the application to the Planning Committee even after more than 5 objections were received and even after receiving a formal request from ward Cllr Wealls to take the application to committee for councillors to decide. Yesterday at Planning Chair Julie Cattell and Planning lawyer Hilary Woodward pointed to the Scheme of Delegation which gave them the right to do it. It is not a right that has, until very recently been used in this way.
Typically and traditionally, cllr requests to refer applications to committee are granted or more than 5 objections up to the point where officers are ready for a decision to be made – however long after the advertised public consultation period – means applications go to committee for decision. Without any warning, that convention appears to have been terminated.
Pressure from the Labour Group and its Planning Chair Julie Cattell to avoid the danger of getting the application refused surely led to letter of the law implementation of the Scheme of Delegation which SOMEONE took the time to scrutinise for opportunity.
But there is another imperative behind the change in how the Planning Department is operating. Pressure on the Planning Department to determine planning applications faster has come from developers pressuring Government and the public believing planners are obstructive and preventing development. So is it any wonder that the de-staffed, demoralised and besieged planners at BHCC, whipped and under pressure from politicians, developers, the public, officers in other departments in the council with their own targets and pressures have resorted to this underhanded and unannounced crackdown on procedure and abandonment of convention? They are in survival mode.