It's always going to be difficult when elected councillors are asked to rule on planning applications from their own councils. When it happens, they're expected to exercise the same dispassionate and independent judgement as they apply to any other planning application. That includes, in particular, avoiding any possible charge that they have prejudged the decision.
That was the situation on Wednesday, when Bristol City Council sought the blessing of its own Development Control Comittee to construct the in-city leg of the South Bristol Link Road, attracting heavy traffic through Withywood and across Highridge Common to the A38. There it joins the North Somerset leg, already approved for construction, and primarily a route that opens up green belt for development while clipping as much as a minute off airport journey times. (It will also save busy commuters the embarrassment and inconvenience of running over Barrow Gurney villagers)
On the day, the Bristol councillors voted the Withywood leg through by 8 votes to 2.
One of the dissidents was the Greens' Daniella Radice, who found a host of reasons (reinforced by the transparent failure of officers to offer convincing answers to her questions) to vote against. The other was Labour's Sean Beynon, who could not reconcile the undoubted expense of a very dubious project with a cash-strapped council being forced into harsh austerity measures by a ruthlessly ideological government (my words, not Sean's!). It just doesn't add up.
Helen Holland would surely have joined them – but as a long-standing and very public objector to the project she did the decent thing and stood down from the Committee – only to be replaced by a Labour colleague, Afzhal Shah, who decided to go with the flow and approve the road.
Of course Helen should have invoked Abraham's Empty Heads Law. All she needed was a simple statement saying “But I wish to give an absolute assurance, and that assurance is, that I come to this with a completely open mind. That must be done, and that is what I shall do.” It worked for Peter Abraham on the Ashton Vale Town Green debacle.
At least two previously-declared cheerleaders for the Link Road weren't troubled by any suspicion that they might have formed a view before the meeting.
Both Claire Campion-Smith and Mark Wright had been part of the LibDem Cabinet that unanimously agreed to bid for government support for the road back in March 2010. Mark Wright had, at that meeting, (and in comments on this blog) rehearsed some of the same pro-road arguments as he repeated on Wednesday before voting in favour of the new road.
Planning applicants..... planning committees...... sometimes they just seem to merge into one.
(more on the nosouthbristollink website)