Councillors: code of practice regarding planning applications
The Planning Code of Good Practice adopted by the City Council gives guidelines as to how Councillors should conduct themselves with regards to making statements on planning application matters.
Some relevant extracts are reproduced below. (Items in bold are our emphasis.)
These points make clear that Councillors are able to express concerns on applications in advance of any decision being made.
Cambridge City Council: Planning Code of Good Practice , Appendix C
4. Making decisions with a “closed mind” and the issue of bias.
4.1 It is important that councillors approach planning applications with an open mind and are able to weigh all the arguments right up to the point at which a decision is made. If you make it clear that you have made up your mind to vote for or against an application before the meeting, regardless of the officer’s presentation and evidence and arguments on both sides, this could well leave the eventual decision open to legal challenge and/or a finding of maladministration.
4.2 You should be careful to avoid the following, where you are likely to be a decision-maker:
- Making statements in advance of the meeting of how you are going to vote;
- Taking up a campaigning role for or against an application;
- Acting as an advocate for groups opposed to or supporting the application;
- Taking part in prior consideration of the application, for instance through membership of organisations such as residents’ groups, lobby groups, civic societies etc. which are consulted on the application.
4.3 This does not mean that you have to remain silent about applications before a decision is made. You are entitled to express a legitimate concerns about an application, for instance when approached by constituents. Although care needs to be taken, you will not be approaching a decision with a closed mind if you express concerns about the application but make it clear that you will decide how you will vote when you have considered all the evidence at the Planning Committee/Area Committee.
4.5 You should not participate in the consideration of a planning application if to do so would give the appearance of bias. The test for bias is: “Would the fair-minded observer, knowing the background, consider that there was a real possibility of bias?” [...] The crucial point is to avoid the danger of an appearance of bias and not whether, in practice, you would approach the decision in a fair-minded manner.
4.6 In practice, there will often be an overlap between the circumstances in which bias is an issue and a member having a prejudicial interest. But the bias rule will apply, even where you do not have a prejudicial interest. It is difficult to advise on all circumstances in which bias may be an issue but they might include the following:
- Where you are associated in the public mind with an organisation which is expressing a view on an application. Mere membership of, say, a campaigning group which is objecting to an application may not be sufficient to give rise to an appearance of bias. But the position may well be different if you are the chair or secretary of the group.