Public perception sparks lively Melton Council debate over ward councillors’ rights to vote on contentious planning applications

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One of the authority’s new councillors, Tom Greenow, proposed a motion to make an addition to the council’s code of conduct which would have prevented a ward councillor taking part in a vote on a contentious planning application within their ward when it reached committee stage.

He said: “I don’t bring this motion in response to any accusations of wrongdoing and don’t imply any slight of any members but I believe there’s a public perception a member may influence a planning decision within their ward at committee stage.

“This motion would remove the public’s ability to question the respective ward member’s influence on the debate and it would be an opportunity to improve the public perception of the planning committee and its process, making it even more open.”

Fellow new councillor Tejpal Bains, who seconded the motion, added: “This proposal seeks to protect members. Ward councillors could still speak at planning committee meetings but we’d step away from the voting process.”

Coun John Illingworth, chair of the planning committee, said: “I find this an affront to my integrity. I believe this proposal will dilute the role of a ward councillor. Surely the greater the concern, the more residents should expect guidance, support and advocacy from their ward councillor.”

Coun Pat Cumbers, who is also on the planning committee, added: “I’ve been a councillor for 18 years and never has the position of a ward councillor voting ever come up as a problem. If anything the planning committee is more open and accountable than any other council committee or working group.”

Coun Alan Pearson supported the motion. He said: “Perception is very important and this would protect members dealing with planning matters. It’s clear members’ rights wouldn’t be watered down and they can still represent their residents.”

Coun Pam Posnett, a planning committee member, said: “Any of us who say there isn’t a public perception about councillors and others in authority certainly don’t listen to the public they’re representing. I believe it’s very important to represent the residents of your ward and we should always maintain the right to vote. We need to represent them in an impartial way and remember we’re councillors of the whole borough and not just the ward we represent.”

The motion was defeated, with 19 councillors against, six for and one abstaining.