GUIDANCE ON LOBBYING COUNCILLORS

There is sometimes a misunderstanding about whether you are entitled to lobby Parish, District or County Councillors.

1.The rules are simple. Of course you are entitled to lobby Councillors.

2.It is part and parcel of a healthy democratic society that allows for a free exchange of views on any subject that involves the administration of Government which you, through the ballot box and subject to the usual constitutional checks and balances, have delegated to Councillors to operate on your behalf.
3. In the case of SMDC Councillors, their own Constitution expressly states that they and Council employees are public servants.
4. To serve their public Councillors have to have a conduit to allow them to know what it is YOU want for your community. Lobbying is a legitimate part of that process. At National Government level full-time professional lobby groups,often financed by commercial interests, constantly try to shape the laws and policies that govern us. At local level it is no different so don’t feel bad about lobbying your Councillor.
5.If you are reasoned and proportionate in your arguments most Councillors will be receptive to your point of view. In the main they live locally and should have the same interests of protecting the Churnet Valley as you.
6.What Councillors have to do when they sit to determine any issue by vote is to declare, on the record, that they have been lobbied. As is made clear in a publication supported by virtually all district and county councils called ‘Probity in Planning’ they should also make it clear, again on the record, that they have not yet reached a decision on any particular matter until they have heard the full application in the properly constituted forum for making the decision. That is all they are required to do.

    Commentary

In the context of planning applications and the determination thereof there is an interesting and seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy between Planning Councillors and Planning Officers.

Like it or not, the vast majority of planning applications are determined under delegated powers by Planning Officers.
Where applicants seek pre-application consultations with planning officers it is very often- some would assert always- the case that those discussions take place under the cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’. Most people would call that ‘Lobbying’.
Yet there seems to be no clear legal requirement that Planning Officers should disclose on the public record that they have been lobbied and/or have formed a view as to the granting of any particular application. Perhaps your councillors should be asked to reflect on this seeming imbalance of public accountability. Feel free to ask them.

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