Many of us feel that the best way to raise an issue about the community is to attend the next Parish Council meeting and say something during the meeting.
It’s sometimes a surprise to learn that it doesn’t work that way. In fact, although its a public meeting, the public aren’t allowed to say anything while the meeting is in progress.
How can that be? Well, here is an informal guide in the form of a Q&A to how to get issues discussed and acted on and how Parish Council (PC) meetings work:
Q. Who can put items on the agenda of a PC meeting?
A. The Clerk, The Chairman, or any of the Councillors
Q. When should I contact councillors?
A. At least a week before the meeting.
Q. Will I be able to speak during the meeting (about the issue I want discussed)?
Q. Why can’t I speak during the meeting? It’s a public meeting isn’t it?
A. “Public” means that it a meeting of councillors that can be attended by the public. So for your issue to be discussed you must rely on the councillor(s) to put the case on your behalf.
Q. Is there any way that I can speak during the meeting, say to correct an error or misunderstanding?
A. Yes. There is a period before the meeting starts of about 15 minutes when any topic may be brought up (for about 3 minutes per person). The Chairman may also suspend the meeting at their discretion to take comments from the floor. These comments aren’t recorded and don’t form any part of the official meeting record.
Q. Does this apply to all council meetings, such as planning meetings?
A. Yes, and any extraordinary meetings. The only meeting where it doesn’t apply is the Annual Parish Meeting which is an official community gathering rather than a meeting of councillors.
Q. What happens if a PC meeting is interrupted persistently?
A. Initially, those involved will be asked not to interrupt, if they continue they may be asked to leave. If they don’t leave then the meeting may be suspended and reconvened at another date.
Q. What if a general ‘Town Hall’ type discussion is needed to ascertain views, for example on parking?
A. The PC can conduct a poll, or other options may be explored such as a separate (residents) meeting can be held and action recommended for the PC to consider.
Q. At a planning meeting can I speak in support of or against a proposal?
A. Yes, if you notify the Clerk at least 3 days in advance. Up to two people may speak ‘for’ and up to two ‘against’ a proposal for up to 3 minutes. You do not have to submit your planned comments beforehand.
Q. For planning meetings, can we make comments in any other way?
A. Yes you can submit comments in writing directly onto the South Downs National Park planning portal. If they are visible before the council’s meeting they may be noted in the discussion.
Q. Why not have an “Any Other Business” section in the agenda where any points can be raised on the day of the meeting?
A. Nowadays this is considered bad practice for two main reasons: firstly that it is unfair on those with opposing views as it doesn’t allow them to prepare and secondly that it risks meetings going over old ground and not moving forward efficiently.
A. Where can I find more information about Parish Councils and how meetings work?
Q. the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has a lot of useful information on their website.