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New councillors offered speed-reading training to cope with council agendas

Planning committee documents compared to War And Peace novel

31 May, 2018 — By Richard Osley

NEW councillors are being offered the chance to take speed-reading courses as they face the daunting task of getting through Town Hall reports stretching to hundreds of pages in length.

Members of the planning committee have the toughest task, with agendas often running past the 600-page mark, and meetings usually held every fortnight. The hefty wad of paperwork – nicknamed WAPs (a reference to War And Peace, Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel) by some old hands – is distributed a week before each meeting, explaining planning applications in minute detail and the objections raised to them.

As part of their induction, all new councillors have been offered training on how to read reports quicker on a computer screen. The council is casting around to see the level of interest before booking places on a course.

Asked by the New Journal how she dealt with the regular, long agendas, planning chairwoman Councillor Heather Johnson said: “Speed-reading courses can be of use, but they are not a panacea. Everybody develops their own methods, but I don’t think anybody who starts on page 1 of the planning agenda and goes through to page 600 will definitely remember everything. You can read the agenda and look at the objections, and then go back to the parts of the report that the agenda relate to those areas – or areas where you may have a special interest in. You don’t have to read the reports in a straight line.”

She added: “President Kennedy apparently used to have reports retyped so they were the width of a newspaper column, which means you do not have to move your eyes as much when you are reading. Sadly, we do not all have a room of typists to do that for us – but I know some people look at making the computer screen narrower.”

New deputy planning chairwoman Flick Rea said: “If you aren’t quick on the uptake and can’t read an agenda you probably shouldn’t be a councillor, to be honest. In planning, I think what happens is that people develop specialisms. For example, I go through the agendas with a fine toothcomb for things to do with trees.”

She added: “It is hard work, but planning is stimulating. You can make your mark, make a difference. How many times do you walk around and say: who on earth gave planning permission for that?”

A council spokesman said: “We aim to provide a comprehensive member training package that supports individual development and also contributes to wider council priorities. This course mainly focuses on techniques to improve an individual’s  ‘e-reading’, in line with the council’s desire to work towards becoming a paperless organisation. We are currently investigating which members are interested in this course before we confirm a booking.”

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