Concerns over meeting length

Huge agendas and late-night finishes have prompted a councillor to raise concerns about the length of north area planning committee meetings – with some rumbling on for nearly four hours.

County councillor Heather Cairns believes that applications heard towards the end of mammoth sessions aren’t given the same level of attention as the ones at the start.

Meetings start at 6pm and can sometimes go on until close to 10pm, and Coun Cairns, who sits on the committee, believes something needs to be done.

She said: “I do have concerns about these planning meetings because I think people’s concentration deteriorates.

“There are applications that come very late in the evening and they don’t get the same level of concentration because people have got very tired. The meetings should stop at 9pm.”

Coun Cairns added that the time for public speaking should be reduced.

The most recent north area planning committee meeting, held last Thursday, had more than 20 items on the agenda and 23 public speakers. The final application was decided at 9.50pm.

The September 5 session closed at 9.45pm while August’s finished at 9.35pm.

Coun Gordon Castle, who also sits on the committee, said: “Only in recent years has there been monster agendas.

“Once it goes past 9pm you have been there for more than three hours. I believe that three hours is the absolute maximum.

“We are dealing with some complex applications, having read a huge agenda and you have to be familiar with these applications. We try to get every one right. As we get towards the end of a long meeting, it is possible that we don’t do justice to some applications.”

Committee chairman Coun John Taylor said he could not comment on meeting length, but added: “We are reviewing the situation.

“It is to do with public speaking and a lot of other things. It is complicated and it is unlikely we will come to a decision before the end of October.”

In 2009, Belford parish councillor Geoff O’Connell criticised the amount of items on the agenda after a meeting ground to a halt after three hours and forty minutes.

○ Reports from Thursday’s meeting, see Pages 18 and 19.