Your Councillors

Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council to the Chairmen of Committees

Minutes:

Question to the Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee

 

In the absence of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, Councillor Perry asked the following question of the Vice-Chairman of the Committee:

 

The newly agreed Parish Charter recognises that Consultation and Engagement is a Key Principle.  As part of this Key Principle Maidstone Borough Council recognised that it will allow a minimum period of 6 weeks and a maximum period of 12 weeks for all consultations, except those relating to planning, or other issues, where statutory deadlines apply.

 

The Parish Charter was the subject of many months of discussion and consultation; the clear aim being to put the relationship between Maidstone Borough Council and its Parishes on a firmer footing.  However, a number of Councillors, including myself, have been contacted by Parishes who have expressed concern at the shortening of the time allowed to respond to the recent Regulation 18 Consultation on selected aspects of the Maidstone Borough Local Plan.  I would therefore be grateful if you could clarify why this key commitment appears to have been allowed to fall at the first hurdle and why were the Parishes, who are clearly parties to this Charter, not properly informed of Maidstone Borough Council’s intention to disregard this key commitment.

 

The Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:

 

The Parish Charter has had various guises over the years.  It was first introduced around the year 2000, and it has been the subject of a variety of refreshes or redrafts, including one earlier this year.  I think that it is fair to say that the Parish Councils are incredibly important.  That is not to take anything away from the urban areas or indeed the town area, but I think that for the rural environment Parish Councils can often be the first point of contact, and as Borough Councillors we work very closely with them and value their input.

 

I know that Councillor Perry had a considerable input into the latest refresh of the Parish Charter, working very closely with certain Officers of the Council.  The Parish Charter was relaunched at the Parish Conference in March this year, and generally, I believe that it was really well received; it felt like the start of something new.  It is fair to say that the Parish Charter is extremely important to this Council and Officers across the Council have been briefed as to its significance.

 

The Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee in June this year agreed a four week Regulation 18 consultation period in order to keep the Local Plan process on track.  If we do not keep the process on track we are in danger of having a housing target imposed on us by national government.  Discussions took place with representatives of the Kent Association of Local Councils and it was agreed that if two Parish Councils affected by the shortening of the consultation period due to the normal cycle of Parish meetings wished to make representations, then they would be able to do so outside the four week period and their comments would be accepted.

 

When we come to conduct the Regulation 19 consultation, which is planned to commence in February 2016, the consultation period will be for a period of six weeks. 

 

Councillor Perry asked the following supplementary question of the Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:

 

What steps will be taken to ensure that in future all parties to the Parish Charter will be notified of any intention to vary the commitment in respect of consultation timescales and will you as Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee give a commitment that variations to this Key Principle will only be made in very exceptional circumstances and that all parties to the agreement will be consulted?

 

The Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:

 

There are two issues associated with this question.  The first relates to training for staff across the Council, and it is possible that when the four week consultation was mooted not everyone appreciated the significance of the Parish Charter.  All relevant Officers across the Council have been briefed on the significance of the Parish Charter in service delivery.  The second issue relates to discussions with the Kent Association of Local Councils about the shortening of the consultation period.  If any variations are proposed in future to the length of the consultation period, the Kent Association of Local Councils will be consulted at the earliest opportunity.