Recently Sheffield’s Planning and Highways Committee held its first virtual meeting to the public, and became one of the first local authorities in the country to do so.
The Committee is responsible for planning applications, tree preservation orders, enforcement action and some highway, safety and traffic management issues for all of Sheffield. It is also responsible for determining City Centre planning, development of transport matters and strategic development projects.
Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Committee meetings will have to be held virtually for some time but Sheffield City Council has set about ensuring that Committees can continue to fulfil their duties to the city.
Government issued guidance to local authorities and these were incorporated into the first virtual Planning and Highways Committee meeting held a fortnight ago. As was the case prior to lockdown, members of the public are able to speak at the meetings. Government guidance is that any suggestions made to the report recommendations are restricted to one person to speak for, and one person to speak against. Input may also be made from a local ward councillor. However, at the Chair’s discretion more speakers may be allowed to speak.
Labour Councillors who have chaired the committee in recent years have always used their discretion to remove the limit on the number of speakers, and it has been confirmed that they will continue to do so, even with the meetings now being held virtually.
Planning and Highways Co-Chair, Cllr Jayne Dunn, said:
“We are all having to adapt to a new way of working, and I want to thank council officers and all members of the committee, across all parties, for their work in getting our first meeting off the ground and hearing cases again.
“It is important to me that we try to do everything we were doing before the pandemic. It’s a tough situation but Sheffield’s Planning and Highways Committee remains open and transparent, and we are adapting everyday to newer, often virtual, ways of working.
“Just like before, Labour Councillors who Chair these meetings will try to hear as many speakers as possible. To help ensure that meetings are conducted in a timely manner it will be requested that there is a nominated person to speak on behalf of a group of people wanting to speak, although it is appreciated this is not always possible”.
Members of the public are encouraged to register their interest in speaking on any issues coming-up on the meeting’s agenda by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 2pm on the Friday before the Committee. This is necessary to facilitate the invitation to the Zoom video conference. Sheffield City Council are also requesting a written summary of all relevant points any speaker may intend to make, so that in the case of technology failure the representation can be read out by a Council Officer.
Written evidence submitted prior to the meeting will be taken into account just as strongly as any representations made verbally, as was previously the case.
Cllr Bob Johnson, Labour Cabinet Member for Transport and Development commented:
“As a city we need to find new ways of working in these difficult times. I’m delighted that we have set-up a system which ensures public engagement and transparency, and that planning decisions won’t be held up.
“It’s obviously a very different world right now, but we want to ensure business as usual wherever it is appropriate. Committee Members often make site visits before deciding on an issue, and we have put measures in place so that these can be undertaken safely and with the appropriate social distancing measures”.
The next Planning and Highways Committee will be held on Tuesday 02 June and the agenda for the meeting can be viewed online http://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=373&MId=7295&Ver=4