Planning apps to be decided in private but Wakefield Council will 'keep public involved' in decision-making

Planning applications will be among the items decided behind closed doors over the coming weeks, following the public lockdown in response to coronavirus.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 3:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 3:12 pm

Wakefield Council says urgent business will continue as much as possible, despite the lockdown forcing public meetings to be cancelled.

The local authority says it's waiting for emergency powers from the government to allow them to hold meetings virtually, as the law currently states councillors must be in the same room while making decisions.

Tuesday morning's Cabinet business was discussed via a conference call between senior councillors after new measures announced by Boris Johnson on Monday night forced the meeting to be cancelled.

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Next month's planning committee is among the public meetings cancelled as a result of the new lockdown measures. Applications will now be decided by officers.

The local authority gave a brief running commentary of proceedings on Twitter for the public's benefit.

All meetings are now cancelled until further notice, but the council said it will try to keep business going remotely if the emergency powers from the government are given.

It has promised to do "as much as possible" to keep the general public involved to allow decisions to be made openly and transparently.

The council's acting chief executive, Andrew Balchin, said: "We will do everything we can to support the national effort to manage the spread of the coronavirus and fully support the new measures initiated by the Prime Minister.

The council says it will keep the public involved in decision-making as much as it can, in the interests of transparency.

"They will clearly impact on our approach to our committee meetings and governance arrangements but we will ensure that key council business and decision making continues."

But issues such as changes to licensing rules and planning applications that were due to be decided will now be delegated to council officers, following consultations with councillors who would have discussed them in public.

It means residents who are normally allowed to speak in favour of or against planning applications, will be unable to directly address the council before decisions are made, though all public comments on any application will still be taking into account.

Urgent matters will be delegated to Mr Balchin and the council leader, Denise Jeffery, for the timebeing.

Mr Balchin added: "We are awaiting emergency powers from government to allow urgent business to be conducted by councillors remotely.

"We will do as much as possible to ensure councillors are fully engaged and the public able to participate as required so that the necessary democratic legitimacy for decisions is maintained.

"Where this cannot be achieved we will consider deferring meetings where possible.”

Local Democracy Reporting Service