5 May 2020

Cllr Judy Pearce

Cllr Judy Pearce is listening to concerns about Democracy at South Hams District Council and explains how the new rules will work.

In recent weeks South Hams District Council has been criticised for the new procedural rules it brought in to help the Council conduct meetings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Last week, the Council confirmed which meetings will take place in the next couple of months and the Leader now wants to explain what that means in reality.

Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council said: "I believe that some people have got the wrong impression of what we are doing with the new procedural rules.

"Ward members will still be involved in the decision making process, but that process does not need to be as extensive as normal, because in the next few months we are only making decisions that are related to essential business.

"Although the regulations provide for these arrangements to last until the end of next May, we shall of course keep them under constant review. As the general situation improves and moves towards more normal times, so will the programme and content of our meetings.

"We were never trying to stop meetings taking place. We simply needed to agree to the new regulations before we could confirm which meetings we would need to hold. I also hope that we are able to return to a fuller schedule of meeting earlier than May, which the new COVID-19 acts allows for.

"With the regulations and meetings schedule in place, we can now focus on moving essential council business forward, this includes some meetings of the Executive, Overview and Scrutiny and also planning."

"We have also been criticised for not allowing ward members to challenge us. This is simply not the case. Ward members can still debate and question topics on the agenda. What we have stopped is extra non-essential items begin brought forward in the way of motions and questions.

"Discussions and conversations will continue to be held with ward members outside of the meetings on a regular basis and decisions about which meetings will take place will be done with the Executive, on which the Leader of the opposition sits."

Concerns have also been raised about planning applications not being decided by committee.

Cllr Judy Pearce explains how they work: "There is a misconception out there that all planning applications normally get decided by a planning committee (Development Management Committee). This is not the case.

"A planning application is only decided by committee if the local ward member asks for it to be decided by committee, or there is a specific legal reason why it cannot be decided under delegated powers.

"We have reserved some dates for Development Management Committee, should any urgent applications come forward that the ward members decide, must be heard by committee and cannot wait until our normal schedule of meetings is resumed.

"In this case we would hold a virtual planning meeting, as close to a normal meeting as possible, with speakers from the applicant and representation from the Town or Parish Council.

"However, the technology is not ideal for such meetings and we would rather not conduct planning meetings like this unless we have to. We are currently exploring different ways that will enable us to hold these meeting remotely and enable everyone who wishes to take part to do so."