Where is the accountability?

Thursday 3rd July 2014 10:00 pm

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Richard Howell, of North Huish, South Brent, writes: Last week the deputy leader and executive member for planning, economy and community at South Hams Council, Cllr Michael Hicks, used your columns to boast about 'democracy in action in the local planning system'. With councillors 'duty bound to declare any financial or personal interests when considering an application,' wrote Cllr Hicks, 'all applications are carefully considered and a decision is made on the planning merits of the application'. Yet at the May meeting of the development management committee, one councillor spoke strongly and at length in support of an application from one of his personal friends. Despite planning officers and other consultees recommending refusal, and notwithstanding strong local objections, the application was given approval. One month later, the committee met again. That same councillor once more championed an application, this time from another close personal friend. Even if Cllr Hicks is unconcerned about any possible conflict of interest, and instead remains convinced 'that decisions are made on planning grounds only', it is difficult accept that the councillor in question can have been entirely dispassionate in his judgement. Cllr Hicks also chose to complain that Cllr Richard Foss had allegedly been wrongly accused of having voted in favour of the Winslade Farm application. But in this instance councillors have nobody but themselves to blame for what Cllr Hicks believes are 'untrue, unfair and frankly, inflammatory comments'. As more than one of your correspondents has previously noted, no record is kept as to how individual members of the development management committee actually vote. Consequently Cllr Hicks might like to use your columns to explain why no such record exists, and how he manages to reconcile his boast of 'democracy in action' when proper accountability is still so sadly lacking.

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