The MP for Morecambe has called for an official inquiry after a Lancaster councillor fell asleep in a public meeting.
David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, along with residents from Hest Bank and Carnforth, has demanded an investigation after Coun Roger Sherlock dozed off several times during a planning meeting at Lancaster Town Hall. Complaints were also made about Coun Margaret Pattison, who appeared to lift the snoozing Coun Sherlock’s arm to help him vote – then later said Labour councillors “decide how we’re going to vote” in advance.
Other councillors have also come under fire.
Coun Sherlock, 79, is expected to resign from the planning committee.
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris, residents in Carnforth and Hest Bank and a Green Party councillor have all called for an inquiry into the conduct of Labour councillors at a planning committee meeting on March 6.
Concern has also been raised about comments subsequently made by Coun Margaret Pattison, raising issues about whether decisions on planning applications are made prior to the meeting taking place.
Mr Morris has also called for an investigation into the conduct of planning committee chairman, Coun Carla Brayshaw “for not asking Coun Sherlock to leave the meeting and preventing him from voting any further after him falling asleep”.
Both Lancaster City Council leader Eileen Blamire and Coun Pattison have responded to comments made by Coun Pattison, who said that councillors attend a pre-planning meeting to “decide how we’re going to vote”. She said this to a Visitor reporter who quizzed her on appearing to lift Coun Sherlock’s arm to help him vote, which Coun Pattison denied saying she had “nudged” him. Coun Pattison said she made the comments “in the heat of the moment”.
Coun Blamire said: “Prior to the monthly planning committee the group meets to discuss the items on the agenda. This is an informal session and allows group members to talk through the planning applications and the recommendations that have been made by planning officers.
“One of the benefits this has is that we are able to discuss any questions and clarifications we may have in relation to individual applications. While we may discuss the nature of the applications and the way we are thinking the vote may go, this is very different to predetermining the applications in advance of the meeting. All members of the committee have received training and are acutely aware of the need to make decisions with an open mind, based on the facts on the table and discussion during the course of the meeting.”
Coun Pattison added: “Eileen Blamire has explained the nature of the informal group session ahead of the full planning committee meeting more clearly than I did in the heat of the moment after our last meeting. Both this session and the planning officer’s reports, which are publicly available in advance, help to give us greater clarity on the planning applications going into the full committee meeting. However, we make our own individual decisions on how we are going to vote after hearing all the evidence and representations during the committee meeting.”
Mr Morris said he was “deeply concerned” about the initial comment made by Coun Pattison, and has lodged a formal complaint to Lancaster City Council chief executive Susan Parsonage.
He said: “My constituents expect planning to be run as an independent sub-judicial service and expect impartiality and proper conduct from all of the councillors who sit on the committee.
“I am astounded that a judicial process has apparently been politicised and would hope that the councillors in question are suspended from adjudicating any further planning matters until a full investigation has been held by the council.”
Residents of the Whelmar estate in Carnforth, who attended the meeting to speak out against new homes in the town, have made two separate formal complaints about the running of the planning committee.
Green councillor Dave Brookes said the Labour councillors’ behaviour was “unacceptable”. He said: “Having observed their voting patterns over many committees it isn’t exactly a revelation that they are agreeing how to vote beforehand as a group, but obviously pretty much impossible to prove unless someone confesses to it in the press.”
It is understood Coun Sherlock will stand down from the planning committee.
Andrew Dobson, chief officer (regeneration and planning), said: “Notwithstanding the issues surrounding Coun Pattison’s reported remarks, which are for her, not officers, to explain, there were no unusual or irregular voting patterns observed during the committee meeting which would lead officers to the view that any of the decisions reached were not properly considered and which would need to be referred back to committee. Any complaints that the code of conduct has been breached will be referred to the council’s monitoring officer and dealt with in accordance with arrangements approved by the Standards Committee.”