At today’s meeting of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, members unanimously agreed to change how the Authority deals with correspondence received after the committee’s deadline in the three days before the meeting. Late correspondence has been a source of contention for some time, in particular at Planning and Rights of Way Committee meetings.
The issues have been that letters and emails received late were circulated and sometimes even read out at the meeting and this often gave them an apparent weight beyond replies sent by the deadline. Members recognised that usually the officer will summarise any matters raised by correspondence as part of their report but officers could not take account of late correspondence which is often not sent to them. It was noted that anyone following the progress of an application on webcast or by attending the meeting was unable to see the content of letters received later than the deadline, although the committee they are observing may take account of that letter during their deliberations. Another concern raised was that some members were receiving substantial amount of correspondence from individuals lobbying about a particular case particularly in relation to planning applications, however all members making the decision should have access to this same information.
During today’s debate, members stressed the importance of making the process fair so that those who had responded in a timely manner were not being disadvantaged by late correspondence and that their concerns would not be overshadowed. It was noted that the Chair and Chief Executive would together retain the right to decide whether a late correspondent had raised a new issue which members should take account of. It was also noted that the change in policy was to be reviewed after 12 months in order to ensure that it was delivering a fairer system. Today’s decision does not change the right to speak at a meeting and anyone wishing to do so may apply to speak when the item is discussed.
During the debate around the report, members considered the likely impact of the changes on Community and Town Councils. It became clear that the dates of all Authority meetings are published up to a year in advance and Community and Town Councils receive weekly lists of all the applications the Authority has received, it is also possible for them to set up automatic reminders within the online planning system offered by the Authority which will alert them to any changes on applications in which they have an interest.
Councillor Evan Morgan, Chair of Planning and Rights of Way Committee commented
“It is vitally important that this Authority acts fairly and we believe the change we agreed today is a move towards a fairer system. I have made it clear that I want us to communicate this change which will come into effect on 1 May 2016, and the reasons for it, as widely as possible so that everyone can understand how and why we are changing. I think today’s decision means that those who have abided by the guidelines and let us have their comments in good time can now rest assured that their voices are not being overshadowed by others who might perhaps have been using the current the system to their advantage.”
The calendar of Brecon Beacons National Park Authority meetings can be found here – https://governance.beacons-npa.gov.uk/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1