I never quite understood why Lord Nolan investigated the planning system, and his conclusions seemed to demonstrate that he did not understand the system he was investigating. The Committee on Standards in Public Life was first established to look into "cash for questions" and its fall out. Planning is a long way from that. Of course there will always be exceptions and there have been issues for example at Bassetlaw a few years ago. Those with long memories of the North East will remember T. Dan Smith in the 1960s. But the restrictions put in place by Nolan led to the case of ex parte Richardson in which I was involved, for the planning applicant. Cllr Richardson lived beside the quarry being extended and was elected to oppose it. But the Court of Appeal decided he could not attend the committee meeting deciding the application, for fear his fellow councillors would be intimidated. In other cases I have advised clients on how to meet with councillors to discuss planning applications and inform them about major and complex applications - you don't want to end up with the well briefed councillors excluded for bias. And I was astonished to hear that councillor candidates at the May elections this year were advised not to express firm views on planning proposals during the hustings.
So it is fascinating to read that Eric Pickles proposes in this announcement to give Freedom for Councillors to Champion their Communities. But the lack of detail - there's no consultation paper - is frustrating. I presume that this will be in the Localism Bill.