The Predetermination Rule

As I have argued on here before, overzealous interpretation of rules designed to stop councillors from being corrupt can have the inintended consequence of preventing them from doing the job of representing their electorate.

I remember one extreme example from my St Albans days when a councillor who was secretary of a local residents' association and who stood for election partly because she had concerns about a planning application was then told she could not even go to the meeting where it was to be voted on.

It's right and proper that there should be rules encouraging councillors to be open and transparent about their interests, and to look carefully at all the evidence before making up your mind. I recall one occasion when the chairman of the planning subcommittee which was due to hear an application for a fish and chip shop was stupid enough to sign a petition against it - cue writs and a High Court action from the applicant. In that case the cause of the problem was a silly mistake by a councillor who should have had more sense.

But both the "Predetermination Rule" which says that if you might be sitting on a planning committee you should not give any indication in advance how you might vote, and some of the other ethics rules, can interfere with the proper functioning of democracy if applied without common sense.

So I was glad to read that housing minister Grant Shapps, promising the "year of councillor power" has said that the localism bill will clarify these rules and remove some of the potential for overly-restricitive interpretations. You can read some of his comments on the subject at Conservative Home here.


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