DEAR Ms Cobbett,

Thank you for your invitation to me in my role as leader of the council.

As I stated in our recent telephone conversation, I do not feel able to attend – but want to provide a full explanation of my reasoning.

I should point out that my role does not have responsibility for the Local Plan – the lead role for this was allocated to a specific cabinet member, and the approval of the submission draft Local Plan was a ‘full’ council decision; and neither does it include the decision to be made on the outline planning application by BDL, which will made by the ‘full’ council.

Furthermore, decisions on land allocations (through a Local Plan) and planning and related applications must not be taken on party-political lines. I will, however, comment on both aspects in a little more detail below:

(i) Draft Local Plan

As you will be aware, the Council has submitted its draft Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate and, at this stage, the Local Plan is in the hands of the appointed Inspector. The proposed programme for the public examination to be held by the appointed Inspector has been published, with an anticipated start date in October.

The only remaining opportunity to raise issues is through the formal examination process; and attendance at the public examination is only available to those who made representations in the various consultations previously undertaken regarding the Plan.

The Forward Planning Team at CDC has made contact with those who are eligible to participate at the public examination – providing the contact details for the Programme Officer and a deadline by which they needed to confirm whether or not they wish to speak at a hearing session.

As the draft Local Plan has been submitted, I am not able either to respond to queries from members of the public on the draft Plan or to express an opinion on the merits of what is proposed in the draft Plan.

(ii) The BDL Outline Planning Application

A special council meeting has been scheduled for September 26 to consider this application. The meeting will be held at The Baptist Church in Cirencester and will start at 1pm. The meeting is open to the public.

As previously stated, the consideration and determination of planning applications must not be on party political lines. I have already given an assurance to officers that members of the Conservative Group are not subject to the party whip in relation to the consideration and determination of the BDL application; and, indeed, this is the case in respect of all planning and related applications. I will reiterate this position at the special council meeting.

As such, my ‘political’ leader role is of no relevance to the consideration and determination of the application – I am but one of up to 34 members of the council who will all have equal status in this matter.

Notwithstanding my comments in respect of the Local Plan, I am also very conscious of the timing of the planned open public meeting, being only three weeks before the special council meeting.

As councillors, we are bound by various codes and protocols, and must have regard to relevant legislation and associated guidance in all that we do. Against this background, I am particularly mindful that attendance at the open meeting – not just by me but by any member who intends to take part in the special council meeting – could give rise to possible issues or allegations around pre-determination or bias, or undue lobbying which could lead to an opinion being expressed that might prevent participation at the special council meeting.

I am also of the view that, no matter how strong the intent would be to limit debate at the open meeting to the Local Plan, questions and comments would inevitably ‘stray’ into matters pertaining to the planning application, given the inextricable links between the two matters.

I am aware that the council has already received many representations in respect of the application, and would encourage anyone who has not already done so to submit their comments to us in advance of the meeting. All representations received will be taken into account by officers in arriving at a recommendation, and by members in reaching a decision.

In conclusion, for the reasons set out above I must decline your invitation to join the panel at the community group meeting. In addition, for those same reasons, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for another Conservative to attend.

Leader Cotswold District Council