Fears that Garstang’s voice will no longer be heard

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Outraged residents claim they are being hushed by Wyre Council after it is set to change how the public can speak at planning meetings.

The changes would mean a maximum of four people can speak to object or support an application and are given 12 minutes in total to speak.

Unlimited speaking has often led to excessive repetition with the same points coming up over and over again and resulting in an excessive amount of time spent on public speaking and reduced time on debate by members

Councillor Shaun Turner

But the council says an increase in speakers at meetings made the previous way of doing things “cumbersome, time-consuming, and inefficient”.

Under the current scheme some meetings had seen more than 15 people speaking to support or object to proposals.

But some local people fear the new rules are an attempt to stifle debate over controversial applications.

Forton resident Peter Noke (60) said he felt it was “another attempt to stifle any protests from the public to for more things to be passed”.

He was one of many people to fear local people wouldn’t be able to get their views across.

He said: “They just want shorter meetings but I don’t think they’ll get the strength of feeling with so little time to talk.

“I think this is another attempt to stop people objecting and I think it will lead to more things being passed. I know we can write letters but I don’t think every one gets read.

“Speaking has more impact and it’s much harder to ignore when it’s someone in front of you rather than just a letter sent in. I fear things will go through unchallenged.”

Action Garstang chairman and Garstang resident Mary Randles agreed and said: “This appears to be another attempt to stifle any protests from the public about planning applications, which could mean more applications get passed without the public being able to object. I would urge residents to write to their local Wyre Borough councillor if you object to this proposal, tell them you are against it, and ask them not to support it.”

The changes will be proposed at meeting on Thursday and would also mean residents registering to speak before planning meetings.

Councillor Shaun Turner, vice chairman of the planning committee, said: “There is no intention to curtail the voice of local people in this proposal, rather just streamline and focus public and councillor speaking at planning meetings.

“Currently, residents can outline their concerns in writing, ask their local councillor to speak on their behalf and they can speak themselves during committee meetings, where members hear people speak both for and against applications.

“However, unlimited speaking has often led to excessive repetition with the same points coming up over and over again and resulting in an excessive amount of time spent on public speaking and reduced time on debate by members.

“In the interests of consistency a decision has to be arrived at by the strength of an argument not by the amount of people who speak.

“Twelve minutes is a long time to talk about any application. Add to this that Parish, Borough and County Councillors will also be able to speak on behalf of residents in addition and I believe that a very robust argument can be produced with time to spare.” Twelve minute ‘stifling’ rule fear