(Thanks to Max for this item): Outside and critical observers of local democracy have long had a problem with the idea that councillors on planning committees should not say or do anything which indicates support or opposition to developments.
An example of this absurdity could be seen at the It's Our City panel debate in Lancaster last Friday when several councillors refused to say whether they thought the Centros Miller plans for a huge and unwelcome shopping complex (unwelcome to many local residents, that is) were rubbish - despite the fact that no planning permission has yet been applied for.
Now, the BBC reports that the High Court has ruled on a case related to the new high pressure gas pipeline being built across England and Wales. Some local councillors were advised by council officers not to take part in the planning committee vote due to having taken part in a protest against the pipeline. They didn't take part, the decision was taken to judicial review, and now that planning committee decision has been branded unlawful.
High Court Judge Mr Justice Collins said the councillors should never been told not to vote. "The councillors did feel under pressure not to participate," he commented. "Where it seems that the advice given was clearly wrong, was in raising the threat of a
complaint to the ombudsman."
He went on to say that councillors should not be inhibited from "doing the duty imposed upon them by the democratic system by the over-cautious advice from monitoring observers".
Perhaps now we can look forward to seeing local councillors show some backbone when standing up to overcautious civil servants?