With the advent of the new neighbourhood planning process, Parish Councils will soon play a key role in determining the type of development in their area. Where previously they played a consultative role on applications, under the Localism Act 2011 they will lead the creation of Neighbourhood Plans and may promote a Neighbourhood Development Order and will be able to put forward their own ideas for development.
Whilst this new role will be governed by the Localism Act, what other powers and responsibilities do Parish Councils have? We think it will be vital for developers and others involved in development to have a broader understanding of how Parish Councils work. This article sets out the key points.
1. Establishment of Parish Councils
Parish councils are the most local form of elected government and represent the first tier of Local Government. Parish councils were established by the Local Government Act 1894. Since then there have been numerous Acts which have increased their powers and their constitution is now governed by the Local Government Act 1972.
2. Powers and Responsibilities of Parish Councils
A parish council is a body corporate as a statutory body.
It has wide powers to provide and maintain certain amenities within the parish. These include (amongst many others too numerous to list in this article) providing recreational grounds, public open space, community facilities, allotments, bus shelters, burial grounds and maintaining public footpaths and bridleways. It may also ask a district council to compulsory purchase land on its behalf if it is unable to acquire land by agreement.
3. Current role in relation to planning
Parish councils must be notified of any planning applications for the area (if it has requested the authority that it wishes to be notified). Any comments submitted by the parish council to the local planning authority must be taken into account.
4. Standing Orders and Delegated Authority
A parish council can make standing orders for the regulation of its proceedings and business and may vary or revoke such orders. A parish council can also create committees to deal with various functions such as its planning or community functions. Standing orders can be made to regulate quorum, proceedings and place of meeting of any committee of the parish council.
Unless a parish council delegates its functions to its committees and officers, decisions for the discharge of its functions can only be made at council meetings. In the planning context, parish councils often give delegated authority to members of a planning committee to consider and respond to planning applications received from the local planning authority. The manner in which planning applications are considered by a parish council will depend on any standing orders and the scheme of delegation that has been put in place by the parish council. A decision made by councillors not formally constituted as a committee or sub-committee or outside of the scheme of delegation would be unlawful and could be set aside by a court if made by a person or a body without the power to make it.
Schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972 sets out the procedure relating to parish meetings. A parish council consists of the chairman and not less than five elected parish councillors. Council members are either elected at local elections or appointed by the council. A parish council must hold an annual meeting and at least three other meetings in a year. An extraordinary meeting may be called at any time by the chairman or members and two members must sign the requisition.
In practice, most parish councils meet monthly. Every meeting is open to the public except where the council formally resolves to exclude the public (this includes the Press) on the grounds that publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest due to the confidential nature of the business being considered. This provision also applies to any committee of the parish council.
At least three clear days before a parish council meeting:
(i) notice of the time and place of the intended meeting must be fixed in a noticeable place in the parish and, where the meeting is called by members of the council, the notice must be signed by those members and must specify the business to be discussed; and
(ii) a summons to attend the meeting, specifying its business, must be signed by the proper officer of the parish council and left or sent by post to the residence of every member of the council.
No business may be transacted at a parish council meeting unless at least one-third of the whole number of members of the council are present. The quorum of committees may be regulated by standing order. Unless otherwise provided by the parish council’s standing orders, the manner of voting at meetings must be by a show of hands. On the requisition of any member of the council, the voting must be recorded to show whether each member present and voting gave his vote for or against the question.
6. Governing Documents
Governing documents for parish councils will normally comprise (and should be available for inspection):
• Standing Orders for meetings and the conduct of council business;
• committee and delegation arrangements;
• access to information arrangements;
• contract standing orders;
• financial arrangements;
• Members code of conduct;
• Other codes which may be adopted by the council
It will be apparent that the business of Parish Councils is carefully regulated by the Local Government Act 1972, and cannot be conducted without observing certain formalities. It is worth knowing these requirements as Parish Councils take a more prominent role in planning and decision making, so as to:-
• ensure they are acting within their powers; or
• (should you find yourself opposing their Neighbourhood Plan or proposed development) find other angles to challenge their proposals