Was legal advice given to 9 Wirral Council councillors who abstained on car parking charges vote flawed?
Wirral Council councillors met on Monday evening, following a request by 21 Conservative councillors for an extraordinary meeting of Wirral Council to call on the ruling Labour administration to withdraw its plans to:
a) increase charges at all existing car parks by 20 pence from next year and
b) introduce car parking charges in Wirral’s parks.
This follows a partial U-turn by the Labour administration on the original proposals, the revised proposals can be read in this Cabinet report.
The decision in that Cabinet report is on hold as the matter has been “called in” by opposition councillors. It will be reconsidered by councillors at a public meeting starting at 3pm of Wirral Council’s Business Overview and Scrutiny Committee which meets at on Monday 13th March 2017 in Committee Room 1 on the ground floor of Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.
Prior to the Extraordinary meeting, there was a protest outside and the public gallery was full (standing room only) to see what happened.
At the Extraordinary meeting (you can watch the full meeting in the video clips above), in addition to opposition from the Conservative councillors, the Liberal Democrat councillors also expressed their opposition to the car parking charges plans.
However the sole Green Party councillor on Wirral Council, Cllr Pat Cleary, expressed his support for Labour’s proposals as he said that introducing car parking charges at Wirral’s parks would encourage people to walk or cycle to the park instead of taking their cars.
Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour advised the fifteen councillors (plus those who may attend next Monday evening as deputies) on the Business Overview and Scrutiny Committee to not vote (abstain) on the car parking charges matter.
Interestingly Surjit Tour said the reason for this advice was that in his view voting on the matter would be considered pre-determination and specifically referred to one of the Local Government Acts.
However (what Mr. Tour didn’t mention) that legislation in one of the Local Government Acts that refers to pre-determination was repealed and replaced with new legislation in January 2012. It was replaced with Section 25 (Prior indications of view of a matter not to amount to predetermination etc) of the Localism Act 2011 which is quite clear and I quote from below.
“(2) A decision-maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making the decision just because—
(a) the decision-maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision-maker took, or would or might take, in relation to a matter, and
(b) the matter was relevant to the decision.
(3) Subsection (2) applies in relation to a decision-maker only if that decision-maker—
(a) is a member (whether elected or not) of the relevant authority, or
(b) is a co-opted member of that authority.”
At least one councillor at the meeting objected to Mr. Tour’s advice on pre-determination as he felt he was elected to represent the views of residents.
At the end of the meeting there was a vote by councillors.
Twenty-four councillors voted in favour of scrapping the car park charges proposals. Thirty councillors voted against and nine councillors abstained.
The topic will be discussed again at a public meeting starting at 3 pm of Wirral Council’s Business Overview and Scrutiny Committee which meets at on Monday 13th March 2017 in Committee Room 1 on the ground floor of Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.
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