Public speaking time could be halved at planning meetings

Residents who want to have their say on planning proposals in Cannock Chase could soon have their speaking time halved at council meetings.

Cannock Chase Council Civic Centre in Beecroft Road Cannock
Cannock Chase Council Civic Centre in Beecroft Road Cannock

Currently Cannock Chase Council allows public speakers up to 10 minutes to put their views forward to planning committee members when an application is being considered at a meeting.

But members are now considering halving this allowance to five minutes, which would bring the authority more in line with other councils across Staffordshire.

Newcastle Borough, Lichfield District, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire County Council all allow up to five minutes for public speakers at planning meetings. But South Staffordshire Council allows just three minutes.

In neighbouring Stafford Borough members of the public are allowed up to three minutes to speak at a planning committee, rising to five minutes if a major application is being considered. Ward councillors representing the area affected by the application are allowed up to five minutes to speak.

At special planning committee meetings in Stafford Borough both public speakers and ward members are allowed 10 minutes to have their say.

A report to Wednesday’s Cannock Chase Council meeting said: “In 2011 council agreed to the committee’s recommendation to permit the maximum time for speeches to be extended from five minutes to 10 minutes for an experimental period of one year, after which the protocol for public speaking was adopted on a permanent basis.

“Officers are of the opinion that although the current arrangements are not onerous for meetings with a smaller agenda it does result in lengthy meetings when several controversial applications appear on the same agenda and there are a large number of speakers. It is also noted that the current arrangements are particularly generous compared to current practice throughout the county”

Committee chairman Councillor Paul Startin said: “I’m very much in favour of reducing it to five minutes.

“We often find when people stand here they feel they need to fill the 10 minutes and repeat themselves three or five times. It doesn’t add to our debate or discussion of the application.”

Councillor Doug Smith also backed the proposal. He said: “If you have only got five minutes make sure that five minutes counts and you are not just reading out what we have already read and repeat what’s in the papers.

“Ninety per cent of people here are not used to speaking. We could give them more support and guidelines.”

But Councillor Mike Hoare said: “I think we are taking away the rights of some people to say things. I would prefer we say five to 10 minutes.

“You could give them that sort of guidance that they don’t have to do it for the full 10 minutes. If you reduce it some objectors might just think ‘I can’t do it in less than 10 minutes’. I can’t see how it would work with everybody.”

Committee members agreed to recommend reducing public speaking time to five minutes per application to the full council for formal approval.

But they were not in favour of changing planning committee meeting times from the current 3pm start.

Several other meetings, including cabinet, are now being scheduled to start at 6pm, rather than the afternoon sessions held in recent years. Members hope the move to more evening meetings will encourage people with work or family commitments to consider becoming councillors, who may have been previously put off if they had to take time out of work or caring responsibilities during the day.

Councillor Startin said: “We have to do site visits in daylight hours. If you’re going into winter the latest we could do a site visit is 3pm and the latest we could do a meeting is 4pm.

“I’m in full employment and my company is in Rugeley. I have had to leave the office at 1.30pm today to go to a site visit. But that’s my choice and I accept my responsibility – I asked to sit here and I’m not complaining.”

Councillor Smith said: “You can’t always get what you want. If you have a job that allows you to do it, wonderful, but if you don’t I’m sorry, that’s the real world.

“This is about looking after our staff. We’re dealing with professionals and if you are an applicant employing a professional and you are here after 6pm your rates are going to double.

Councillor Samantha Thompson said: “When you take these roles on you realise they all start at different times. I think 3pm is the best time.

“We have to think of the officers as well. They are agreeing to work with us from 6pm on other nights and they should be home with their families.”

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