• Development Intelligence

Virtual council meetings: an update

In a previous blog post in April, we covered off where local authorities had got to in their preparations and introduction of virtual planning. A month on, things have moved at pace and most local authorities have now had their first or even several virtual meetings. Time for an update…

As readers can imagine, the DI team now spend a lot of time watching ‘Council TV’; verdict, not as good as Netflix would be an understatement. Three key themes across the country jump out:

  1. As officers’ and councillors’ confidence is still bedding in with the new format, it is noticeable that predominantly the applications on offer are the less controversial and smaller schemes. Larger more complicated and much opposed applications have not yet troubled most virtual planning meetings. They will have to come and there will be weeping and wailing from NIMBY protestors…

  2. …into this space have jumped CPRE and Friends of the Earth, obvs, claiming that virtual planning is an assault on democracy, the end of the world, blah blah. In truth, they have a point: it is much harder for a small local gang of noisy protestors to use the theatre of a planning committee room to bully members into voting an application down. Whether that is a good point of course is very much another matter.

  3. An important lesson has also been that the pace of committee meetings has inevitably slowed, thus each application is taking much longer to determine. Local authorities are learning that shorter agendas and thus probably more regular meetings work best.

Two specific local authority highlights for you:

Manchester City – It has persisted with its Chief Executive-determined applications approach, where a senior team of councillors advises the CEO, but he determines the application. All legal but a bit bizarre. Kind of inverting the process: members now advise, one officer decides. This is very Manchester and in truth publicly shows all what has effectively been true since Sir Howard Bernstein days: Manchester is the epitome of a very officer-led authority.

Horsham – A new one on the DI team: rather than an officer or the committee chair reading out the objector or applicant’s speeches, or them being allowed to record them, Horsham briefly recruited Siri to read these out to the assembled virtual company. After trialing this, they unsurprisingly concluded it sounded a bit too robotic and have now dropped the idea.

The DI team has been monitoring dozens of virtual committees across the country for different projects. If you would like some insight into what to expect from the committee your scheme will go to, get in touch.