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Planning meetings: at last the people can speak out

After 50 years, members of the public will be able to address council committee and have a say on neighbouring developments

04 January, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Council leader Nickie Aiken: ‘It is part of a new drive to make sure that planning really serves the interests of local people and is – and is seen to be – transparent’

THE public are being allowed to speak up at planning meetings for the first time in 50 years.

Frustrated residents will no longer have to rely on councillors to represent their views about neighbouring developments.

With the muzzle off, planning meetings are expected to take on a new explosive edge.

But the Labour opposition group says the new regime does not go far enough and more is needed to be done to fix the “broken culture” of the council’s planning department following a year of scandal.

It is expected to begin at next month’s planning meeting when the council moves back to its newly-refurbished offices at City Hall in Victoria.

Council leader Nickie Aiken said: “We will hold the first planning meeting at which residents will be able to address the room directly, rather than through a councillor.

“This is the first time in half a century that this has been possible. It is part of a new drive to make sure that planning really serves the interests of local people and is – and is seen to be – transparent.”

The idea of letting residents speak at meetings was first proposed by the Labour group in the build-up to the council elections last May.

It has called for councillors to be banned from accepting hospitality from individual developers and to increase affordable housing targets on public land developments to 50 per cent.

This followed an investigation by the city council into its former planning chief Robert Davis, who quit after 37 years as an elected representative in Westminster.

Mr Davis was not found to have acted unlawfully but was found to have recorded more than 500 gifts and hospitality in three years before his resignation.

Mr Davis said in a statement that while he disputed his actions brought the council into disrepute, he wished to “draw a line under the matter”. He resigned in October.

Councillor Geoff Barraclough, Labour’s planning chief, said: “The council needs to fix the broken culture at Westminster Council so that we put residents first.

“Councillors should have a transparent relationship with developers and other powerful interests so that residents can be assured that their elected representatives are fighting for them rather than dining out on developers’ expense acc­ounts.”

The council made planning changes following a review by the Planning Advisory Service that supports councils and is part of the Local Government Association.


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