Saturday, 28 February 2015

Muir delivers greater transparency for planning decisions

I have managed to deliver changes in how planning applications will be dealt with by our new Council when powers are transferred from Department for the Environment to Ards and North Down Borough Council on 1 April 2015.

With planning powers transferring to local Councils on 1 April 2015 it’s vital that appropriate procedures are put in place to ensure planning decisions are made in an open, transparent and accountable manner. I am therefore delighted that the new Council unanimously agreed that it is no longer acceptable to have Councillors simply raising their arm and no voting records retained detailing who voted for or against planning applications. Only if you attend the meeting do you see how Councillors have voted by raising their arm.

If a vote is taken on a Planning Application names of Councillors voting for, against and abstaining will now automatically be recorded in the minutes without exception. Minutes of the meeting will record voting record of Councillors on each issue for public review and scrutiny by members of the public. Without the change secured a recorded vote detailing how each Councillor voted would have only occurred if a Councillor requested such before members were given the opportunity to raise their hands for or against. This inevitably requires Councillors to predict if a division vote will occur. 


After Councillors refused to even look at cost of electronic voting system the new manual set-up may prove time consuming but vitally important to open up local decision making on such important matters. With the change including Planning Applications, the Local Area Plan, Planning Policies and Planning Procedures this will ensure more accountable planning decisions especially for those who lead busy lives and cannot attend Council Committee meetings to see which Councillor raises their hand for or against.

I look forward to the new era of Local Government and planning set-up ahead and will continue to focus on openness and transparency, building upon this success and continuing to challenge resistance to other measures such as audio recording of all Council Committee meetings which was blocked by Unionists a few months ago.

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