To consider the New Local Plan Governance Arrangements (report attached 29 June).
Councillor Storah presented the report on the proposed governance arrangements concerning the new Local Plan. He said he had concerns regarding the consultants’ proposals for a small and private Local Plan Leadership Group, which were shared by party colleagues, parish councils and residents. He said there was a political aspect to this process and perception was important. He was confident that the proposal for a larger, cross-party LPLG, with a wider geographical spread of Members, was the right thing for the district. In regards to scrutiny of the Plan, he said he had a preference for pre-scrutiny of planning policies but was ambivalent in terms of which body would be responsible for the scrutiny function.
Councillor Evans said accountability was at the core of the governance structure. He said there was no template to follow and the proposed arrangements outlined in the report were bespoke and designed with UDC in mind.
Councillor Criscione asked whether there were any similar tried and tested governance models in existence or whether UDC was acting as a “guinea pig” for this bespoke proposal. He said the Council could not afford to experiment and required a governance structure with a proven track record in producing sound and deliverable Local Plans. He asked what was the difference between the existing Local Plan governance bodies, such as the Planning Policy Working Group and Garden Communities’ Boards, and the new proposals. He said that private meetings could not be discounted as sensitive information could not be made public as it would disadvantage the Council during negotiations. He also said it was important that consultation took place “on the ground” and “out on the road” to ensure as many residents as possible contributed to the Local Plan process. Finally, he said he would welcome a distinct Local Plan Scrutiny Committee to ensure that the existing work streams of the current Committee would not be over shadowed by the Local Plan.
In response to questions from Councillor Criscione, Councillor Evans said that the proposals put forward by the consultants were bespoke to Uttlesford and therefore he could not say the proposed structure had a “proven track record” in producing deliverable Local Plans. However, the consultants had a great deal of experience on which the proposals were based and the intention was for the process to be reviewed in six months’ time.
In response to a question from Councillor Criscione, Councillor Evans said there was a desire to move away from the Planning Policy Working Group and create a new group with fresh terms of reference.
In response to a question from Councillor Criscione, Councillor Evans said it was his intention to take consultation “out on the road” and to ensure that “Joe public” took an interest and had an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
Councillor Coote said he would not be happy with meetings of the LPLG being held in private. He added that formal consultation was required and that third tier councils should be given a leadership role in the making of the Plan.
At 9.20 the Chair asked the Committee whether they were content to continue as the meeting had passed the two hour mark. The Committee consented.
Councillor Sutton said the Council needed to work together to produce a sound Plan as quickly as possible. She said the public could not be ignored and their representations must be taken into account.
Councillor Dean said a distinct Local Plan Scrutiny Committee needed to be established to distribute the workload; if the current Scrutiny Committee were to keep the Local Plan processes within its remit, it would be over burdened by a heavy work programme. He said it would not be possible for all meetings of the LPLG to be held in public and a large group would lead to it becoming unmanageable. He asked the Administration to give serious thought to the governance arrangements as he had concerns regarding duplication and efficiency of such a structure.
Councillor LeCount said public engagement was important and that this Administration would do it differently from the last. He said that councillors would not work in the interest of only their own wards but in the wider interests of the district. He praised the idea of a “Local Plan bus” that would tour Uttlesford, with members from all parties, to engage with residents on the Local Plan.
Councillor Sell highlighted the importance of communication and said clear and consistent engagement was required throughout the entire process. He said he thought there should be a dedicated Local Plan Scrutiny Committee but highlighted the resource issue in Democratic Services, which he hoped would be resolved soon.
Councillor Jones said he would prefer a sub-committee of the Scrutiny Committee to be established for the purpose of scrutinising the Local Plan. He said there simply was not enough members to establish a larger, distinct Local Plan Scrutiny Committee.
The Chief Executive said the proposals before Members were the culmination of work between EELGA, the Executive and officers. She said lessons had been learnt from the previous process, such as moving away from the Planning Policy Working Group which was chaired by the previous Leader and appeared far too similar to the Executive, even though it was not a decision making body. The options open to the Committee were to establish a distinct Local Plan Scrutiny Committee as appointed by Full Council, or to establish a sub-Committee as appointed by the current Scrutiny Committee, or to keep the Local Plan scrutiny function within the remit of the existing Scrutiny Committee. She said she had concerns regarding the workload of the existing Scrutiny Committee, particularly in light of the public health emergency and the subsequent recovery. The years ahead would be challenging and effective scrutiny of all aspects of council work would be vital going forward.
The Chair asked whether the arrangements had not been thought through, considering there was still no concrete proposal on the scrutiny function.
The Chief Executive said it was not that the proposals had not been thought through but rather that the Administration had come to a different view from officers and the EELGA consultants as set out in the report.
Members discussed the EELGA proposals. There was general agreement that it would be helpful if the EELGA consultants had included their rationale behind the arrangements.
Councillor Dean said it was clear from the papers that there had been disagreements between EELGA and the Administration and that’s why there was no concrete proposal in regard to scrutiny’s role in the process.
As summarised by the Chair, the following recommendations to Cabinet were endorsed by the Scrutiny Committee:
The point of contention related to which body would be responsible for oversight and scrutiny of the Local Plan process. In summary, the views were as follows:
Cllr Driscoll proposed to recommend to Cabinet the establishment of a distinct LP Scrutiny Committee, duly seconded by Cllr Sell. The proposal was rejected with 4 for, 6 against.
The Chair said that there was no overwhelming mandate on the issue.
Members agreed to defer the discussion of the Local Plan scrutiny function until Cabinet had met.