Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has written to Ministers to express concern about the daft effect of new rules intended to uphold standards in local government but which have the unintended consequence of discouraging Councillors from visiting sites involved in planning applications and preventing them from voting or speaking if they do.

    Peter Lilley said: “I understand that Councillors on some Planning Committees are being advised that if they visit a site for which a planning application has been made they will be deemed to ‘have an interest in the application‘ and so required to leave the committee and neither talk nor vote when this issue is discussed. As a result decisions are made by those who have least first hand knowledge about the issue. This strikes most people as daft. It is red tape carried to extremes.

    “In my experience the overwhelming majority of local Councillors of all parties are decent honourable people who work hard and conscientiously for the community. Yet these new rules are being applied as if they must all be assumed to be devoid of either integrity or good sense. Of course if Councillors have a financial stake in the site of a planning application they should declare that and stand aside. But taking an interest in an application is not the same as having an interest in it.

    “Recently a Councillor was even advised to leave a Planning Committee simply because he goes to the same church as the person who was making the planning application. If this sort of rule is rigidly applied the only Councillors allowed to take decisions will be those who don‘t know anyone in their ward, don‘t belong to any local organisation, and don‘t know the sites they are discussing!

    “I have taken this up with the Minister of Local Government because if this is really the legal consequence of laws passed by Parliament it is time Parliament revised them.

    “I accept that on very rare occasions, Councillors or officials can be corrupted: they should then suffer the full force of the law. But these pernickety rules won‘t help prevent that sort of offence.?