Councillors stage a walk out

Tuesday May 14th 2019

Midlothian Council

Written by Midlothian View editor, Phil Bowen

Ten Councillors withdrew from today’s Planning Committee meeting following a decision made by the Standards Commission to suspend two Midlothian Councillors last week. See last week’s Midlothian View article HERE.

The decision has created a fundamental uncertainty over the ability of councillors to make planning decisions if they have been exposed at all to one side or another of an argument, even if they remain neutral until the Planning Meeting itself.

They are concerned that should they meet someone in the course of their councillor duties, who raises a matter or opinion about a planning application, that unless they now go and see all other parties involved then they may be reported to the standards committee.

The majority of Councillors met this morning to discuss this issue and all agreed that to take part in any future planning Committee meetings may expose them to a breach of the Councillors Code of Conduct.

Chair of the Planning Committee, councillor Russell Imrie, said before the councillors withdrew:

“I am not prepared to suspend the Planning Committee, since as a quasi-judicial committee there are items on the agenda which if we are to get really tight about this we actually risk bringing the council into disrepute by suspending the planning committee.”

After the walkout Councillor Kenneth Baird said:

“The decision to withdraw from the Committee was not an easy one to make. Whilst all Councillors have a will to get on with business, we must be able to do so within a legal framework that does not expose us to legal action simply for doing our jobs.”

“Councillors made an individual decision whether to take part today, however it was disappointing and noticeably obvious that Labour Councillors opted not to withdraw, despite indicating their intentions otherwise.”

Councillor Peter Smaill said:

“The Standards Committee decision has potentially serious implications for interaction with community councils, not just in Midlothian but across Scotland.

“It also appears to makes surgeries impossible should a planning matter be brought up, and likely insists on planning officers being always present, which is impossible given staffing levels and planning activity.”

Councillor John Hackett, who did not withdraw from the meeting said:

“I felt sympathy for my other councillors but decided it would be more appropriate to reflect on the written response received this morning from the Standards Commission before deciding to take further action.

“In particular there were residents with active planning applications that were due to be heard today and to not do so would have been unfair on them.”

After the ten councillors left the meeting was only quorate (a minimum number of councillors are required to be present at a Planning Committee in order for it to be valid) because Council Leader Derek Milligan came in from sick leave.

Planning is not a political committee and so whilst the councillors are members of a particular party they must all act individually and form their own opinions in the meeting.

Today five SNP councillors and five Conservative councillors walked out of the planning committee. Last week it was two Labour councillors who were suspended for the month of June but all six Labour councillors decided to remain in the meeting today. One SNP and one Conservative councillor could not attend today’s meeting. Midlothian has eighteen councillors.

You can watch the webcast of the Planning Meeting including the councillor walkout HERE.

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