Councillors, Pre-determination & Planning
October 4th, 2011 by Louise Humphreys
According to reports in last week's Planning magazine, almost two-thirds of councillors believe that changes contained in the Localism Bill will allow them to state in advance how they will vote at committee meetings.
The current rules on pre-determination mean that a decision taken by a public body - including local planning authorities - is unlawful if there is evidence that a decision-maker approached the issue with a closed mind, although it is important to note that this does not prevent Councillors from expressing opinions about matters in advance.
A clause in the Localism Bill will alter this rule; it says that a decision-maker should not be seen to have had a closed mind when making a decision simply because he or she "had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision-maker took, or would or might take, in relation to a matter".
Now imagine this rule operating in the criminal law arena. On my understanding, it would be perfectly acceptable for a juror to say in advance of hearing all the evidence that, given the anger in the community about the crime, the defendant is going to be found guilty. Such an approach would be unconscionable to the vast majority of people.
Whilst I am not suggesting that planning decisions necessarily carry the same importance as jury decisions, they do impact on our lives and should, in my opinion, be made only once the decision-maker has all the information is to hand.
Interestingly, the same research indicates that nearly 7 out of 10 Councillors believe that the new rules will put greater pressure on them to oppose development.