Michael Coghlan | CC| https://flic.kr/p/dotTG8

PD welcomes Government response to explore webcasting of planning meetings.

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Designing Learning in the Digital Age (25/10/12)

Planning Democracy welcomes news that the DPEA is to explore greater use of webcasting at planning appeal hearings.

We have, for some time, been interested in how webcasting of planning meetings, hearings, and inquiries might increase transparency and improve the quality of the planning decisions made. Webcasting council meetings offers the opportunity to engage and educate people about the practical operation of the planning system. Webcasting and archiving the video of planning committees also helps to boost trust in the system by promoting transparency and democratic accountability.

Despite the benefits of webcasting, few planning bodies regularly use the technology in Scotland. Our research has shown, that only two local authorities – Moray and Highland – have been regularly webcasting live planning meetings, with Edinburgh set to begin doing so within weeks. Although Dumfries and Galloway don’t live webcast their planning meetings, they do post full audio recordings of their planning meetings retrospectively to YouTube.

Recently, the inquiry into coal bed methane in Letham Moss, Falkirk  triggered our interest further into webcasting public local inquiries (PLI’s).

The community group involved in the PLI were keen to get the whole process webcast, and indeed one of the lawyers representing the council made a suggestion about it in a blog before the PLI started.

We made some inquiries and talked to a number of people who we know have been involved in PLI’s asking them their views on recording and live streaming.

The vast majority were very keen to have live webcasting at PLI’s for various reasons. Many of these reasons were very human. For instance, because listening well and recording is difficult over long periods, they wanted to have something to refer back to. Somewhat unbelievably, there are no minutes or records made during a PLI so copious notes need to be made, both by those giving evidence and by the Reporters. Recording the proceedings would remove the need to do this. Perhaps, then, the Reporters could have time to make eye contact with the witnesses, to read body language, and so on. On the keeping of recordings, many felt that it was a useful and that archive material should be kept for as long as possible, particularly considering the length of time planning issues can last.

Other benefits expressed were that webcasting enables people to keep abreast of the proceedings without actually having to attend in person, especially as most PLI’s take place during normal working hours. After all, people can to do this very easily with parliamentary debates. Webcasting was perceived to be in the public interest because it opens up the planning system to people and may help encourage people to engage and understand the planning system and may help to demystify its complexities. We asked several groups of people who had been involved in PLI’s whether cameras would be a discouragement. No-one felt that they would be, many saying that the process was so nerve-wracking anyway that an extra camera wouldn’t make any difference. In any case, a camera is soon forgotten if it is non-intrusive.

We don’t know why Dart objected to the community’s request to webcast the PLI in Airth.  As far as we are aware webcasting doesn’t provide anyone with any data or information that is not already out there, after all, every inquiry document is available on the DPEA website.

We are however, pleased that the DPEA have responded to our request to look into webcasting further – we obviously hope that this will be with a view to making it happen. Certainly, we shall continue to collect information about this issue to support the case for webcasting.

Do you think more planning meetings and inquiries should be webcast? Please get in touch to tell us your views. We’re also keen to hear from people who have experience of participating in, or organising, webcast meetings.

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