Cardiff Civic Society calls for the chair of Cardiff’s planning committee to be appointed independently of party politics, so that the voice of the public can have more opportunity to be heard.
Nerys Lloyd-Pierce, the chair of Cardiff Civic Society said:
“When Cardiff Council holds its annual general meeting and appoints a chair of planning the decision should go to a recorded vote. Local councillors should be allowed to choose their own person to chair the committee. The chair of planning should not be chosen for them by the governing party leadership. A chair who is chosen independently is more likely to listen to the voice of the public when big decisions are made.”
Cardiff Civic Society is now calling on Cardiff Council to:
- Hold a recorded vote on the chair of planning at its annual general meeting
- To do so on the basis of a free vote, in which members of the cabinet are not allowed to vote.
In April, Cardiff Civic Society wrote to the party leaders. The leaders of the Conservative and Lib Dem groups met with the Civic Society to discuss the proposals. The leader of the council did not respond.
The letter reads as follows:
“I understand that the chair of Cardiff’s planning committee is due be to elected at your annual meeting, which is due to be held in May [the meeting will now take place on 26 November].
“I understand that the election of chair is a whipped vote. That is, the party business managers (or whips) instruct members of each group which candidate to vote for.
“The whips are appointed by the leader of each group in order to maintain the party discipline of each group. The whipping system is particularly important to the governing party in order to ensure that they can gain the council’s approval for important measures in their programme, especially the annual budget.
“If a party has a majority, their whips can ensure their programme is approved.
“The whip system is an established part of democracy in parliamentary systems. Despite its flaws – and the way it takes power away from individual elected members without executive positions – it is an accepted part of the system of modern Western democracy.
“However, its use in order to select chair of committee is less uniform. For example the UK Parliament and the Senedd do not use the whipping system in order to select chairs of scrutiny committees. This stems from relatively recent reforms which sought a better balance between the executive (Ministers in the case of a parliament) and the ‘backbench’ members – whose role it is to scrutinise the executive.
‘The problem with using the system of whipping to select the chair of a scrutiny or regulatory committee like planning is that it places what should be a role independent of the executive within a system which exists to serve the executive’s needs.
“I believe that there is a strong perception that the system used in Cardiff favours the executive. This is damaging to the overall perception of the planning system. The executive themselves often put forward major projects which require planning approval. Therefore, they have a vested interest in such projects being passed. So, in order to avoid the appearance of any undue influence being placed on the chair of planning the vote to appoint them should not be whipped and nor should members of the executive be allowed to vote. It should be a free vote.”
Democratising the way the chair of planning is just the start. Cardiff needs to go further by changing the rules and practice of the planning committee so they are fairer to citizens.
The current rules of planning committee contain the following controversial elements:
– A second vote for the chair of the committee to be used in the event of a tied vote
– Severe restrictions on the ability of members of the public and ward councillors to speak at committee
Furthermore the committee’s current way of working effectively prevents citizens from presenting extensive expert advice at committee meetings to counter the advice of planning officials in favour of schemes.