Council set to hold behind closed doors planning meetings

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

COUNCILLORS have agreed plans to hold pre-agenda meetings before the planning committee meets in a bid to speed up the process.

Hartlepool Borough Council will introduce the changes from June after committee members agreed plans to hold pre-agenda meetings, behind closed doors, involving councillors and officers.

Concerns were raised that it could look like decisions had been made before the public part of the meeting.

But Labour councillor Rob Cook, who chairs the planning committee, said that won’t be the case and instead it will be an opportunity for members to get a “better feel” for applications and to ask questions.

It has been known for planning committee meetings to drag on for more than three hours and Coun Cook hopes the changes will speed up the process.

He said councillors will still hear from the applicant and any objectors in public before taking a vote and planning officers confirmed holding pre-agenda meetings was deemed best practice.

Coun Cook said at a recent meeting the time of the pre-agenda meeting would depend on whether there are any site visits but they would always be held before the public session starts.

Labour councillor Jim Ainslie said: “Can I just make clear that no decision will be taken before the meeting.”

Coun Cook said it was so members are aware of any idiosyncrasies and to save time.

He added: “There will be no pre-empting of decisions.”

Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley asked: “Is there not a danger that perceptions could be created that we are making decisions in private.”

Labour councillor Marjorie James said holding pre-agenda meetings was one of the recommendations made to the council by an external trainer as an example of best practice.

Speaking afterwards, Coun Cook said: “This is just to give members the opportunity to discuss in-depth any issues that they might have or to clarify any issue, to get a better feel for the applications.

“Obviously, any concerns members have will still be brought up in the public part of the meeting.

“The aim is to streamline the process so that we are not taking up more of people’s time than is necessary.”

Members of the planning committee agreed to the changes with the exception of Alison and Geoff Lilley, of Putting Hartlepool First, who abstained.