Cllr Willie Lissen: Planning And Vice Chairman

‘Our man in the group’ Cllr Willie Lissen has been in communication again.

It’s AGM time for the Tory Group – the last one in this term of office. With a change of Leader imminent, and successors jockeying for position, will it be ‘steady as she goes’, or the first hints of a new regime?

One position that certainly won’t change is Chairman of Planning. Thank you, Dee, for demonstrating what a splendid job Phyllis does in commanding her troops without them noticing.  Simply telling someone directly how to vote never works for long, so a more subtle approach is needed.

In each pre-meeting, the chairman updates everyone on how things look from the perspective of the Director of Planning & Economic Development, and lets members air their thoughts about an application.  Cllr Pollard then persuades us that whatever misgivings we may have, there is a good reason why this application needs to be approved. It will usually be something about the benefits outweighing the understandable objections for which we have great sympathy, but they carry little weight as planning reasons. If all else fails, it will be the cost of defending the case going to appeal, and how it is better to approve it with the right conditions than have an inspector approve it and lose control. Anything then heard during the meeting will have to be very powerful to counter the reasoning we have all accepted in the pre-meeting. To do otherwise feels weak and disloyal to our colleagues, so we just go with the flow.  No need to air all our thoughts in front of the opposition as we’ve got it all off our chests in the pre-meeting and are resigned to the fact that our negative thoughts are insubstantial.

It takes an enormously powerful objection during the actual meeting to overturn our collective pre-approval. The most powerful one we’ve ever seen was the monk who bravely ventured from the peace of a rural retreat and was clearly struggling even to raise his voice above a whisper. He spoke calmly, and sincerely from the heart, of living in a place where the only sound was birdsong, of how it was spoilt by drunken revellers leaving litter and generally running riot, how residents of his peaceful community had moved away, and how they now offered the vacated rooms to raise cash to buy in the labour they had lost. The instinct to protect this innocent creature won the day.  Without a monk presenting his objection in person, the application would easily have been nodded through first time.

There have been plenty of cases with far more objections, including very solid reasons, which we’ve managed to push though without any trouble, so well done, Phyllis, keep up the good work.

The biggest AGM surprise is usually who is to be put forward as the next Council Vice-Chairman.  After a year in the supporting role, appointment to Chairman is automatic. There’s no money with either job, but a lot of free lunches, and chauffeur-driven nights out.

Since 2007, when we out-numbered any opposition, we’ve only allowed one non-Tory to join the ‘Chain Gang’.  In May 2009, the LibDems proposed Beverley’s John Bird, but Cllr Parnaby assured us that this was a bad idea, as he’d benefit from the high profile of being Chairman in the pre-election year.  Seems perfectly sensible.  But then four years later, the Leader told us it was a good idea to have Labour’s Pat O’Neil, as it would “keep her too busy to do any campaigning”.  A splendid example of what Sir Humphrey calls “moral manoeuvrability”.

So, which option applies to Margaret Chadwick as she takes the hot seat for next year?  A final fling before retirement, or some pre-election publicity?  It’s certainly not for novelty value, as Margaret was consort to husband Chad when he was Chairman in 2012/13.

Who’s public profile needs a boost from being Vice-Chairman?

It may be too early to expect an alternative proposal from the back benches.  Since our Leader announced his retirement, Group meetings have looked a bit like those sci-fi or fantasy stories where, one by one, people break free from a trance, and start to notice what’s been going on. The drama always ends with the villain becoming increasingly  desperate to stay in control, but eventually being annihilated by the awakening mob…..

Which reminds me, have you noticed that the Director of Planning & Economic Development has a lovely set of Cyberman cuff-links. Resistance is useless …. or maybe not.

Wisdom From Cllr Willie Lissen

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