Being on Planning Committee vs well, not

Someone recently asked me why I wasn’t representing the community by sitting on the Vale Planning Committee. The question revealed a lack of understanding about both the responsibility of a member of Planning Committee, and what it means to represent a community. A councillor cannot represent their community whilst wearing their planning committee member hat.

Responsibilities of a planning committee member:

A member of planning committee is expected to remain open minded on any planning application until the last minute, and to not actively support or oppose an application. Whilst sitting as a member of the planning committee, members are not representing their communities; they are interpreting planning policy and law for each individual application.

Representing my community:

I listen to what members of the community think about an application, and consider whether I can find any policy that supports the community view. (This is usually a view opposed to the application.) If I can find such a policy, then I can actively work to get planning officers to consider our views, try to get applicants to amend their plans to accommodate local concerns, and use my powers of persuasion to lobby planning committee members. This freedom to speak out and actively work to influence decision making is exactly why I didn’t choose to serve on Planning Committee.

So far, in all that I’ve seen in the years since I was first elected, I’ve done a pretty good job at ‘representing my community’ by NOT being on planning committee.