Agenda item

Constitution Review - Area Committees

To receive a report back from the Area Committees Working Group and provide feedback on the first draft of the proposals for recommendations the Committee will be asked to adopt at the next meeting scheduled for 20 November 2019.


The Chairman of the Area Committees Working Group, Councillor Benjamin Martin, updated the Committee with the interim feedback from the survey.  He advised that they had received 163 responses, 54% of which had been in support of establishing Area Committees. Whilst the survey had not yet closed, and a full report would be considered at the next Policy Development and Review Committee (PDRC) meeting, he drew attention to some draft recommendations which could possibly form the basis of the report to the next meeting, and explained that there were some areas where he welcomed feedback from members.  This included the involvement of parish and town councils; whether there should be three or four Area Committees and how the split should be made if there were four; and the possible terms of reference of the Committees.


The following summarises the debate:


·        There should be an opportunity for flexibility so that Area Committees could adapt to suit local circumstances, for example by having discretion to select from a standard list of terms of reference and agreeing their own frequency of meetings;


·        Parish and town councils could be asked to give written representations which could be tabled in advance of the meeting but in areas with a large number of parishes consideration needed to be given on how to manage  parish/town council representation at meetings.


·        If there were two Committees for Sittingbourne (urban and rural) whether this was the right split or the right name; it was recognised that different wards would have different issues and some areas would be more willing to engage than others; in parished areas there would be a greater number of representatives when compared to unparished areas.


·        Terms of reference – further advice was sought as to whether executive decision-making could be delegated to Area Committees; there was some discussion regarding opportunities for consulting on planning applications but this would create possible issues regarding the potential for pre-determination for members of the Planning Committee; further consideration could be given to considering ‘strategic development matters’ rather than individual applications.


·        Funding – how would the funding be allocated between the Committees?; whether an amount  of funds could be allocated to each borough member and those members could work together for the benefit of local community?; whether there was a way of enhancing the current local member grant scheme?.


·        Public – how to encourage responses to the survey, recognising how the survey had been promoted via social media and at district offices (in paper) and Inside Swale; the need to consider resources involved in doing this; whether the public wanted to be involved in Committees or did the residents expect ward members to ‘get on with it’.


During the debate some Members expressed concern that the survey was not valid given that it was anonymous, but did welcome feedback from the public.  Officers confirmed that full details of the results of the survey and an in-depth analysis of the results would be included in the report to the next PDRC.


The Chairman clarified that the purpose of the survey was to get ideas from the public and he thanked the Committee for their feedback.  This would be considered further by the Working Group, and a full report would be considered at the next PDRC meeting on 20 November 2019.