Councillors question protocol which could stop committee members voting on planning applications

Havering Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears

Havering Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Havering councillors have revealed their concerns with a council protocol that could prevent committee members from voting on planning applications.

The first virtual meeting of the borough’s planning committee was held on Thursday (May 14), using the video conferencing tool Zoom and webcast on the council’s website.

But a report outlining the protocol of virtual planning meetings revealed that if committee members encounter problems with their internet connection, they may not be able to vote on an application.

A council spokeswoman confirmed that a decision at that type of meeting can be passed with just three votes out of the eight-strong committee.

The report said: “If a connection to a member is lost during a meeting of the planning committee, the chair will stop the meeting to enable the connection to be restored.

“If the connection cannot be restored within a reasonable time, the meeting will proceed, but the member who was disconnected will not be able to vote on the matter under discussion, as they would not have heard all the facts.”

The same protocol will also apply to the strategic planning committee, which decides on larger applications.

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Among the councillors who voiced their concerns was South Hornchurch ward councillor Graham Williamson, who sits on strategic planning.

He called for a member in that situation to be able to vote by email, adding: “I appreciate that the vagaries of the internet and the unfamiliarity of virtual meetings but it is unacceptable for a vote to be lost.”

Labour group leader Keith Darvill, who is also on the strategic planning committee, said: “It would concern me if the want of the committee was not followed just for a technical reason. I would hope that the chairman of the meeting would just adjourn the meeting until it is restored.”

Last Thursday’s meeting lasted only five minutes after Cllr David Durant, a member of the planning committee, withdrew his call-in regarding an application to vary a condition of planning permission granted for mining and extraction of materials at Wennington Quarry in Rainham.

Cllr Durant said he boycotted the meeting and argued that these meetings should be held in person at Havering Town Hall.

He also questioned the voting protocol, adding: “If a connection is lost the member can’t vote, but what if it’s a contentious application and a split decision?”

Cllr Damian White, leader of Havering Council, said: “In order to preserve the integrity of decision-making on planning applications it is essential that participants watch or listen to the debate. If a committee member loses connection we make every effort to reconnect them so that they can take part in the vote.

“There is no definitive length of time to wait. It will depend on the individual situation. However, the council has provided suitable IT for members to use and additional training.

“If it isn’t possible to reconnect, the committee can go ahead with the vote, if sufficient members are available, or adjourn the meeting to a later date. It is for the chairman of the committee to determine on the situation.”