No laughing matter as councillors are rebuked

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Joking councillors have had the smiles wiped off their faces following a complaint they were not taking matters seriously.

Members of Chorley Council’s development control committee received a warning after they were accused of being too light-hearted.

It follows a discussion about Wigan Athletic’s plans for a new multi-million academy complex – at the former Charnock Richard Golf Club – during a meeting. As a consequence, the borough solicitor sent an email out to committee members about their conduct.

The council said the complaint, from a member of the public, was fully investigated and that it was satisfied councillors had considered everything they needed to do to make a decision. However, they were reminded that meetings are conducted in public.

Gary Hall, chief executive, said: “We investigated the complaint and we are happy that all the issues which needed to be taken into consideration for a decision to be made had been. All our councillors take their roles very seriously and all issues put before them at meetings are considered carefully. However, although we don’t expect them not to enjoy their duty as councillors, they have been reminded how their conduct may appear to members of the public.”

Current committee chairman, Coun Steve Holgate, who was not in charge during that particular meeting, said planning councillors take their decisions seriously.

He said: “When members of the public come to a development control meeting it is usually because it’s a very emotive issue.

“What the public don’t realise is we’ve read the agenda and most of the information we need is there and being considered duly and diligently, and a report is offered by an officer and we make a decision. Development control always take matters seriously.”

He said he had held a short meeting with committee members over the issue.

“If there’s a perception we’re not taking matters seriously, we have to quash that,” he said. “But I’m not going to be Mr Grumpy.”

Former committee chairman Matthew Crow, who chaired the meeting, said: “We took concerted steps during my tenure as the chair of development control at Chorley Council to improve the conduct and workings of the council’s most important committee and I think there was agreement across the political divide that good progress was being made to this end.

“The legal officer is right to say that the item under question was given the proper consideration and was no exception to the committee’s usual high standards of professionalism when determining the borough’s planning applications.

“I am sure councillor Steve Holgate will do his utmost to try and address any concerns as and when they arise in the future.”

Committee member, councillor Alan Whittaker, who represents Chisnall ward, said: “A member of the public was concerned about issues such as ecology and floodlighting. I can’t remember what the jokes were, but it was sufficient enough to offend a member of the public who was there.

“For many people it’s their only contact for local government and they want to see their concerns being taken seriously.”

Another committee member, councillor David Dickinson, who represents Brindle and Hoghton, said: “I don’t know what was said that was inappropriate.”

He said the committee takes it duties “very seriously” and added that personally he did not think the borough solicitor’s email was necessary.

“What the public don’t realise is we’ve read the agenda and most of the information we need is there and being considered duly and diligently, and a report is offered by an officer and we make a decision. Development control always take matters seriously.”

He said he had held a short meeting with committee members over the issue.

“If there’s a perception we’re not taking matters seriously, we have to quash that,” he said.

Former committee chairman, Coun Matthew Crow, who chaired the meeting, said: “We took concerted steps during my tenure as the chair of development control at Chorley Council to improve the conduct and workings of the council’s most important committee and I think there was agreement across the political divide that good progress was being made to this end. The legal officer is right to say that the item under question was given the proper consideration and was no exception to the committee’s usual high standards of professionalism when determining the borough’s planning applications.”

Committee member Coun Alan Whittaker said: “A member of the public was concerned about certain issues. I can’t remember what the jokes were, but it was sufficient enough to offend a member of the public. For many people it’s their only contact for local government and they want to see their concerns being taken seriously.”

Another, Coun David Dickinson said: “I don’t know what was said that was inappropriate.” He added the committee takes it duties “very seriously” and that personally he thought the borough solicitor’s email was unnecessary.