At the Parish Council meeting last Friday – a special meeting called to ensure we responded promptly to a planning application – it became clear that some of those present were not clear about why, how, and for whom such meetings are called.

The Parish Council, currently chaired by Allan Scott, review all outstanding planning applications at their regular two-monthly meetings. Like everyone else, they know about such applications only when the notices are sent out, and (usually) know nothing more about them than anyone else. Special meetings are called only when a response needs to be given before the date of the next scheduled Council meeting. This means that all such meetings are normal Council meetings.

At normal Council meetings members of the public are allowed to attend, and may speak at the discretion of the Chair – usually at the end of the meeting. The Chair can (and in this case did) choose to relax that rule when appropriate, but must also conduct an orderly meeting where only one person is speaking at a time. This ensures that – as far as possible – everyone in the room, including those with hearing impairment, can follow the proceedings.

The Council will consider individual parishioners’ objections to a plan, but their job is to give a balanced response taking all community interests – including those of the landowner – into account.

For the record, a councillor with an interest in a particular project may not take part in the discussion (except to provide information) and may not take part in any vote on the Council’s decision. For that reason they would normally leave the room once the basic facts have been established and return after the vote.

As Allan pointed out at the meeting, decisions about planning made by the Parish Council have no particular legal weight – and, in the past, have frequently been ignored by the District Council. The only way to give legal weight to such decisions is by the creation of a Neighbourhood Plan – of which more in due course. This is an expensive and time-consuming procedure which requires professional assistance. Costs currently start at around £13,000 but can go far higher. A government grant of £9000 is available, but you need to bear in mind that the entire income of the Council in one year is just £7500, and there are many other things it is needed for.

And just a reminder that all Parish Councillors are unpaid volunteers who have chosen to give up their time and share their skills for the benefit of the community. However, they all have other calls on their time that must also be respected. Currently services such as this website and the quarterly village newsletter are provided by councillors at cost, and distribution depends on a small team of volunteers.

More volunteers – for this or anything else – are always welcome. In particular we are looking for people willing to help maintain the Play Area behind the Village Hall to ensure it remains a useful, safe and valued amenity for our children.

Want to help? Just email parishcouncil@hitchamsuffolk.org.uk and let us know what you can/would like to do.