Whilst I mostly kept on top of my emails whilst away, I did not update the blog as I had intended, especially regarding the Council’s Annual General Meeting. Here was the agenda for the meeting that took place on 24 May.
The Election of Mayor and Appointment of the Deputy Mayor
My Group supported the Labour nomination of Cllr Amrit Mann for Mayor and his choice of Deputy, Cllr Ajmer Grewal. I spoke on behalf of the Group and do believe that this is a good choice.
Future of Area Planning Committees
There were some very strong feelings about the above report. It was very clear that both the Labour and Conservative Groups have differing opinions on the report. My Group did not have a Group Position on the matter, instead all Members were given a free vote. The Labour Group supported the recommendations in the report. A minority of Conservative Group Members, including me, also supported the report. A majority of the Conservative Group Members opposed it. It was a very interesting debate with some excellent contributions, especially from Liz Mammatt who spoke against. My feelings on Area Committees are pretty well known and I believe that the report is a sensible compromise between my position and that of the majority of other Councillors who believe and value the Area Committee component.
Phil Andrews has commented on this decision on the chiswickw4 forum. His views on Area Committees have always differed to mine but I do agree with the following comment he made:
“I would have been more reassured had the Report been presented to Borough Council in the name of the Lead Member whose responsibility it is, rather than of the chief officer”
I have attacked the Labour decision to remove the name of the relevant Lead Member from reports. Amongst my reasons for supporting the report were:
- I was supportive of what was written in the report bar some minor clumsy remarks, which did not alter what the report was trying to achieve;
- One of the hardest things to explain to constituents is the quasi-judicial nature of planning. It is reasonable for residents to assume that Councillors have been elected to represent opinion in their ward. With Planning & Licensing, local representation (which I am as passionate about as anyone else) is over-riden by the legal requirements placed on Councillors. Were planning decisions not to be quasi-judicial or Councillors were allowed to have pre-determined views about planning applications then the case for more planning applications being determined at an area level becomes stronger than at present;
- Some Councillors enjoy and are more able when it comes to certain areas, in this case planning. This enables the planning enthusiasts to run with the decisions that require Member approval;
- The financial consideration cannot be ignored. I find it difficult to justify the structure (that does not exist elsewhere in London) when services are being cut elsewhere.
An inaccurate remark made in response to the previous posting epitomise the difficulty with planning, a difficulty which will still continue to a lesser exent without Area Planning Committees, namely the difficulty that local representatives have when it comes to Planning. I know that there were decisions taken (rightly in my view) by the West Area Committee in recent years to over-turn certain recommendations. Residents were pleased with those deciions but the planning inspector overturned each one. Hardly a good outcome for anyone.
I concluded my remarks by stating that I went into the meeting as a strong supporter of the report but became less enthusiastic by a very bad decision from the Labour Group to remove Cllr John Cooper as Chair of SDC. He was very important in such a transition and I know he has looked at this objectively. Cllr Cadbury considered the removal of Cllr Cooper to be irrelevant to these changes. She is wrong. I expect some feedback on the above.
Establishment of Formal Council Bodies 2011/12
I do have concerns about some of the Labour Group decisions but the worst one of all was the removal of Cllr Cooper. Planning is a quasi-judicial matter and he had the respect of both Groups and others.
Notification of the Appointment of the Executive
I was not given the opportunity to ask questions about some of the changes but some would have been:
- Why has Housing been removed from Cllr Cadbury’s portfolio?
- What has Cllr Gupta been taken away from Education?
- Isn’t the portfolio given to the new Lead Member, Cllr Curran, too large for one person? Why does he have Corporate HR also?
- Why has Budget Strategy Responsibility been taken from Cllr Dennison and given to the Leader?
But a well natured meeting. One of those where I could say that it was unfortunate we no longer have webcasting of the Borough Council meetings.