Code of Conduct review is welcomed

Aberdeenshire SNP’s council group spokesman on planning and economic development has welcomed a revision of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct which reflects recent changes in the planning procedure in Scotland.

The revised Code of Conduct, which took immediate effect from its publication on December 21, has an expanded section on ‘Decisions on Planning Matters’ outlining the procedures to be adopted by councillors in their handling of the various stages and types of planning matters and applications.

The Code’s provisions relate to the need to ensure a proper and fair hearing and to avoid any impression of bias in relation to statutory decision processes.

It is a councillor’s duty to ensure that decisions are properly taken and that parties involved in the process are dealt with fairly.

Although councillors may attend public meetings or events (including those relating to a statutory pre-application consultation), and may raise any constituents’ objections or concerns with planning officers – at no time should a councillor express a ‘for’ or ‘against’ view by advocating a position in advance of the decision making meeting.

Exceptions to that rule have now been confirmed in that the requirements of the code should not limit councillors from discussing or debating matters of policy or strategy, even though these may provide the framework within which individual planning applications will in due course be decided. It also states that councillors are permitted to take part in the decisions made by Full Council even though they may have expressed an opinion on the application at a pre-determination hearing or at the planning committee.

Councillor Rob Merson said: “Although commonsense dictated that such amendments were required in dealing with strategic and policy issues and in the pre-application process for major applications, I very much welcome the clarity which has been provided by the publication of the revised code.

“However, it is very important that the obligation remains that councillors should not prejudge an issue, and must consider planning applications in the light of all the information available.”