‘We’ve been gagged’: Claim councillors being banned from representing locals

Jason Rust says the rules on planning objections prevent councillors from speaking out
Jason Rust says the rules on planning objections prevent councillors from speaking out
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CITY councillors are being “gagged” after strict rules were agreed to stop them making representations to the planning committee on behalf of their constituents.

Regulations in the Scottish Government’s code of conduct for councillors says elected members should only be allowed to present a case against a planning application in their ward if the applicant and all other parties are given the same opportunity to speak.

The code also says if councillors do make representations to the committee, they must then leave the room rather than stay and listen to the debate.

Jason Rust, Tory councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead said: “This is effectively a gagging order because it is prohibiting councillors, who are elected to represent local people, from speaking out on major issues which concern them.”

Planning convener Ian Perry told the full meeting of the city council he was unhappy about the rules, which date back to 2010 but have only recently been highlighted. But he resisted Tory calls for the council to defy the rules and carry on allowing councillors to appear.

The council agreed to amend its planning procedures so that councillors wishing to make representations on behalf of their constituents will now have to write to the committee asking to do so.

If the committee considers it appropriate to allow such a representation it would then hold a “pre-determination hearing” when the councillor could be heard along with any other interested parties.

Cllr Perry said there was a lot of frustration about the code, which is administered by the Standards Commission, but argued the council had no choice but to comply with the rules while pressing for a change.

He said the requirement for councillors to leave the room after making their representation was “ridiculous”. But he said the Tories’ proposal to ignore the new rules was asking the council to “man the barricades” and “create martyrs” by taking on the Standards Commission.

He said: “We have agreed as a committee to go to the Standards Commission and explain to them how we think this will affect the operation of the planning committee. We will make representations, but until then I think we have to comply.”

Tory City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat questioned how many pre-determination hearings the committee was really likely to agree to. She said: “We have thrown out an efficient system which allowed local elected representatives to represent those that elected them. I think we all agree the code of conduct is a dog’s breakfast. We are saying ‘Let’s stand up to them, represent the people we are elected to represent and preserve democracy’.”

Mark McInnes, Tory councillor for Meadows/Morningside said: “This is about the emasculation of our fundamental role as elected representatives. It will encourage a further loss of faith in the democratic process and the planning process.”

However, the Scottish Government defended the requirements.

A spokeswoman said: “Section 7 of the councillors’ code of conduct is designed to ensure planning decisions and other statutory decision-making processes within councils are conducted properly and fairly. This reduces the risk of a councillor or council’s decisions being legally challenged.”