Planning and Lobbying Councillors’

The Nolan Principles (embedded in the Localism Act) noted:

‘Lobbying councillors is a normal part of the planning process’

In a letter from the then Department for Communities and Local Government to Hilary Benn MP (2013) the Minister (Eric Pickles MP) set out the guidance to be followed by councillors. He said: ‘councillors must act solely in the public interest and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, a friend or close associate.’

Champion local residents

He also noted: ‘Whilst recognising the need for due process and a fair hearing, we must also protect the right of freedom of speech to allow councillors to champion their local residents: the narrow interpretation of pre-determination rules has previously been corrosive to local democracy’.

Councillors and lobbying (

Probity for Planning

The Local Government Association add to the guidance in ‘Probity for Planning – for councillors and officers’. The guide notes: ‘It is important that planning authorities make planning decisions openly, impartially, with sound judgement and for justifiable reasons.

The process should leave no grounds for suggesting that those participating in the decision were biased or that the decision itself was unlawful, irrational or procedurally improper.

The determination of a planning application is a formal administrative process involving the application of national and local policies, reference to legislation and case law as well as rules of procedure, rights of appeal and an expectation that people will act reasonably and fairly. All involved should remember the possibility that an aggrieved party may seek a Judicial Review and/or complain to the Ombudsman on grounds of maladministration or a breach of the authority’s code.

Lobbying of and by councillors

Lobbying is a normal part of the planning process. Those who may be affected by a planning decision, whether through an application, a site allocation in a development plan or an emerging policy, will often seek to influence it through an approach to their ward member or to a member of the planning committee.

The Nolan Committee’s 1997 report stated: “It is essential for the proper operation of the planning system that local concerns are adequately ventilated. The most effective and suitable way to do this is through the local elected representatives, the councillors themselves”.

Lobbying, however, can lead to the impartiality and integrity of a councillor being called into question, unless care and common sense are exercised by all the parties involved. It is therefore essential, when lobbying decision takers, that every council member directly involved in the planning decision process has the opportunity to receive and consider the same ‘lobby’ material.  

Members of a planning committee, Local Plan steering group (or full Council when the local plan is being considered) need to avoid any appearance of bias or of having
predetermined their views before taking a decision on a planning application or on
planning policies.

The courts have sought to distinguish between situations which involve predetermination or bias on the one hand and predisposition on the other. The former is indicative of a ‘closed mind’ approach and likely to leave the committee’s decision susceptible to challenge by Judicial Review.

Probity in planning for councillors and officers

© 2022

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