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Letter: Having local councillors on NFDC’s planning committee – one in the chair’s seat – is a good thing

FOLLOWING the letter from a resident in Milford last week (A&T 10th Nov), disapproving of Milford’s district councillors sitting on the NFDC planning committee (indeed one of them is the chair of the committee), I must defend their position as a former member of that committee.

The planning committee has a particular function, to read planning applications, visit sites when necessary, listen to resident opinions, hear NFDC officer opinions and ultimately debate and vote on planning applications across the whole of the New Forest district area. You are not there to solely represent your local village or town area.

Members of the planning committee are advised not to reveal how they might vote on a planning application before the committee meeting. They can be taken to task or face conduct charges (or cause the council to face legal proceedings) by developers or irate residents who hold opposite views, if they show bias beforehand. Most councillors choose to listen quietly to all arguments before deciding how they will argue and vote on the committee. They must be seen to be fair to all parties.

New Forest District Council offices
New Forest District Council offices

The chair of the committee more so than other members. Because the chair has a second deciding vote in the case of a drawn committee vote for or against an application being passed. This is why the chair of planning will often not get involved with resident campaigning groups. Residents sometimes see this as disinterest or bias. But it is not. The chair’s role is to chair fairly and one of the most difficult jobs on the council. They can be torn between their personal views, the legalese around planning, the goals of the council (and the government) – and their heart when listening to residents’ pleas!

The fact that Hordle and Milford have two local councillors on NFDC’s planning committee – one in the chair’s seat – is a good thing, in my opinion. They have a vote (or two) plus the opportunity to try to persuade the rest of the committee to go with them and to mitigate against outcomes they disagree with. Their role is not to solely champion their local village resident views – which of course are wide-ranging and varying in any case!

Cllr Fran Carpenter

Hampshire County Council

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