Members of the public will soon be able to speak at planning pommittee meetings.
The ‘public speaking scheme’ will be trialled for 12 months starting from Wednesday, December 18.
While planning committee meetings are open to the public, only written comments on planning applications have previously been considered.
Under the scheme, for each planning application considered one objector and one supporter, or the applicant, plus the local authority representative, will be allowed to explain their position in person to the planning committee.
Trevor Cowin, of Peel, who wrote to the Examiner about the issue, has written to all members of Tynwald about the matter.
He believes that everyone should have had the right to speak already.
He says: ‘You will recall that in response to my letters to the Examiner Minister [David] Cretney wrote to you all and attempted to explain away my opinions on the right to speak, and associated matters, by citing a selected extract from the Standing Orders in which he emphasised the word “may”.
‘You will recall also that I circulated to you a lengthy and detailed response to the issues raised by Minister Cretney and his criticisms of me in his letter.
‘Briefly, in terms of the right to speak, my opinion is that not only does the word “may” in Standing Order 4(8) of the planning committee’s standing orders, not give the committee discretion as to whether or not to introduce the standing order, it also doesn’t give the committee discretion as to whether or not a person can address the committee.
‘The word “may” actually provides discretion for persons to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to address the committee and if they do exercise such discretion, then all that they have to do under the Standing Orders is register a request to speak and they “will be permitted to speak”.
‘In my opinion, therefore, the wording of the standing oder referred to makes it perfectly clear that members of the public, as described in the standing order, have the right to address the planning committee, subject only to them registering a request to address the Committee before the hearing.’
He adds: ‘You might wish to ask Minister Cretney how he intends to remedy the unlawful decisions taken by the planning committee at its meetings since the standing orders made by him came into operation on August 1, 2013, given that the planning committee has failed to comply with his standing orders, which form part of the planning laws of the Isle of Man, by denying the right under the law of members of the public to address the Committee.
‘And, you might wish to ask Minister Cretney also, where the deadline for registering a request is provided for in the standing orders made by him, as Standing Order 4(8) (a) only requires that a request to address the planning committee be made “before the meeting”, and where the other procedures and restrictions referred to in the leaflet are provided for in the standing orders referred to.
‘It seems clear to me that the procedures and restrictions described in the e-mail and in the Leaflet are, in effect, Standing Orders, which regulate the exercise by the Planning Committee of the Department’s functions delegated to it by the Minister and which should have been included in the Standing Orders made by the Minister under section 3(4) of the Government Departments Act 1987; but they weren’t. In my opinion, therefore, the procedures are unlawful.
Finally, Mr Dudley Butt, MLC, who reads this letter in copy, might wish to remind Minister Cretney of the statement that the Minister made to him at the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee hearing on November 13 2013 that “if it is proven that there is anything which is not correct….. and if anything is required to be changed or to be done right or done differently, we will do so…” and of his statement to the minister that “I suspect it might be coming our way as a committee”.
‘Hopefully, Mr Butt will take steps to recall the Minister to his committee so that he can be asked to explain his Department’s failure to address the issues that I have raised.’
Laurence Skelly MHK, the Department of Infrastructure’s political member with responsibility for planning and building control, said: ‘Changes made to the planning committee standing orders earlier this year introduced the option of allowing members of the public to address meetings, subject to a number of criteria. The department has decided the introduction of public speaking at the meetings of the planning committee should happen now.
‘Many people will be happy to continue to make their views known in writing only, but we hope the opportunity to speak at planning cmmittee meetings is embraced and helps develop an even more open planning process.’
He added: ‘The scheme allows one person to speak for a proposal, the applicant or a supporter, and one to speak against. Only objectors who have previously made written comments on an application will be able to speak, although a representative of the relevant local authority will be allowed to address the committee regardless of whether they have submitted a written reply to the application.
‘Alongside introducing public speaking, we are making a number of changes to the administration of Planning Committee meetings and a leaflet explaining how the scheme works is available from the planning office at Murray House in Mount Havelock, Douglas, and can be downloaded here.
To register to speak at planning committee meetings, you must call planning administration on 685911 – and you need to register by 4.30pm on the working day before the committee meeting. The dates of all forthcoming planning committee meetings are available online and meetings are advertised in the Isle of Man Courier.
The first Committee meeting to include public speaking is on Wednesday, December 18, which has been brought forward from Monday of the following week because of Christmas bank holidays.