Members of the public could be banned from asking burning questions at planning meetings of Milton Keynes Council.
Councillors who are leading a review of the council’s rules have decided instead to request that members of the public submit questions to Development Control Committee at least 24 hours in advance.
The council’s Constitution Commission heard on Monday (February 25) that answering questions on the hoof had led to time consuming adjournments of the Development Control Commitee (DCC).
Cllr Keith McLean, who chairs the DCC, wrote to tell the three-councillor commission that the “recently introduced option for objectors to ask two questions of officers” has “not worked well as officers often do not have the answer to hand, so we may have to have a short adjournment.
“If the objectors had sent the question in to the officer by, say, Tuesday before the meeting the answer could be in the update report.”
The Commision, made up for Councillors Catriona Morris (Conservative), Robin Bradburn (Lib Dem) and Norman Miles (Labour), agreed to give their officers more time to think.
Tim Skelton, of MK Forum, had argued that questions keep officers “on their toes” but the commission members agreed that putting questions in advance was fair and reasonable.
Cllr Morris, who chairs the commission, said the move would also be consistent with meetings of the full council, which required questions from members of the public to be tabled in advance.
“It gives time for a proper answer, rather than something that is off the cuff.”
Cllr McLean and others had supported a plan to also reduce the amount of time that members of the public had to put their points across from three minutes each to two minutes each.
“My reason for this is that objectors will probably have written when the application was published and again when they see the officer’s recommendation. When they turn up it is usual for them to repeat what they have already written.”
But the committee agreed with Mr Skelton’s view that “it is a chance for the public to have their say”.
Cllr Morris added: “The elephant in the room is the quality of officer reporting to committees. The reports should answer all the questions.”
She added that the council’s constitution was not ‘the law’ but instead a set of rules that the chairs of committees could use their discretion with, and adapt if they were good at what they were doing.
The commission’s recommendations will be passed on to the full council to approve or reject.