Peak Park Authority open to debate

The Peak District National Park Authority is seeking residents’ views on proposals for a fairer system of public speaking at Authority meetings.From 2000 the Authority has allowed any number of people up to three minutes to address a committee, but recent meetings have sometimes had more than 20 speakers for one agenda item, leading to very lengthy sessions, unequal viewpoints and delays to decision-making.

Now the Authority is considering limiting the time taken up by public speaking to allow members to focus on important decisions. They propose to equalise the number of speakers, with up to three supporters and three objectors per item, with a time limit of three minutes each.

This is more than many neighbouring councils currently allow: High Peak Borough, Sheffield, Staffordshire County, Cheshire East, Barnsley and Oldhamcouncils allow only one speaker from each side; Derbyshire Dales allows two from each side, and Staffordshire Moorlands three, as proposed by the Authority.Other national park authorities have limits of between one and three speakers for each side, or a maximum of three to five minutes for all the speakers – if there is more than one they must share the time.

Chief executive Jim Dixon said: “We believe very firmly in public participation at our committees, but restrictions on time and number of speakers are very common in local government to avoid repetition, unfairness and delays.

“We need to address a potential unfairness in our current system which does not enable equal time for both the objectors’ and supporters’ views to be heard – it’s simply a matter of who applies to speak.

“And we must also be fair to people who cannot get to committee meetings and so give their views in writing beforehand. There is a growing perception that this carries less weight than speaking in person, but this is emphatically not the case. For this reason we propose no longer to allow speakers to be questioned after they have spoken, to be fairer to those who put forward written comments and thus cannot expand on what they said originally.

“We believe that three minutes per person, for up to three objectors and three supporters, giving a total of 18 minutes public speaking per agenda item, should be perfectly sufficient for people to get their views across and for members to gauge the issues.”

People have until Thursday November 22 to give their views via a questionnaire on www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/consultations

or call Customer Service for a paper copy of the questionnaire on 01629 816200.

A decision will be taken by the full Authority on December 7.