Posted by: westlancashirerecord | April 15, 2018

Cllr O’Toole Predisposed Not To Be Determined?

To comment on planning is not being judicial or quasi-judicial, but some councillors who ought to know better give the impression it is. Apparently at a recent meeting in Halsall , LCC/WLBC Cllr O’Toole is quoted as stating “Finally I must mention concerns over planning applications which may result in fracking in parts of West Lancashire. I have deliberately not commented on this subject other than to say that I will take serious note of the residents’ concerns. I am not a member of the Development Control Committee at County Hall and have no vote on that Committee”.

And for WLBC he apparently claimed “I am however the Conservative lead member on WLBC Planning Committee and in that respect again I will take heed of residents’ concerns within my Council Ward. To declare my intentions prior to the matter coming to Committee would be considered to be as prior determination and would be an extremely foolish thing to do as it would mean that I would need to declare an interest and not take part in the debate or subsequent vote which would in turn mean I would not be able to speak on behalf of my residents”.

How depressing it is to read that this elected member of both local authorities holds such views. It is by now well known that law  exists that assists members’ understanding of the common law rules on bias and predetermination which apply in addition to requirements under the code of conduct to declare pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests.

These rules are particularly relevant to regulatory decisions made by Planning Committees. The law on bias and predetermination is part of the legal obligation on public authorities to act fairly. This requires those taking decisions on behalf of the public to do so (and be seen to do so) in a manner which is fair in all the circumstances and is untainted by any issue or perception of personal or extraneous interest. The test for bias and predetermination was set by the court in the case of Porter–v-Magill in 2001 and is whether a fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility of bias. The test is to be applied having regard to all material facts and circumstances. However, the Courts have recognised that as democratically elected representatives, councillors will inevitably have predispositions on matters of policy. It is therefore entirely lawful for councillors to have a predisposition and this will only become unlawful predetermination if the decision-taker closes their mind to any other possibility beyond the predisposition. Predetermination has therefore been defined as occurring when a member has fixed views on a matter and retains a closed mind when it comes to making a determination.

Did O’Toole ever indicate holding a worthwhile view, let alone a closed mind biased view, on fracking, which is a divisive issue in West Lancashire? None that is apparent to the electorate of Aughton & Downholland, many of whom face the threat of it. He scores 0/10 for his knowledge of bias. And for not apparently seeking his right to use the Borough Solicitor as his source of how to represent his short-changed electorate to save him making a balls of it?

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