Sheffield council backs down on ‘closed door’ decisions

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Planned changes to how decisions are made on highways schemes in Sheffield have been scaled down.

Sheffield Council officers were recommending the current cabinet highways committee – at which members of the public can attend and comment on applications before decisions are made – should be scrapped.

Officers said the change could speed up decision-making by several weeks.

Highways bosses also proposed that only decisions on schemes worth more than 
£1 million would be made by a councillor, with the rest approved behind closed doors by unelected officials.

Concerns were raised by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors that the plans would limit public scrutiny.

Ruling Labour councillors have now said they will streamline the existing cabinet highways committee, so there will be just two councillors on the decision-making board instead of four, as at present.

Coun Leigh Bramall, cabinet member for business, skills and development, said: “There is absolutely no cut back in democracy. Members of the public will have the same opportunities to attend the meetings and scrutinise decisions. We are happy to make these meetings open to the public and press.

“People will have the same opportunity to make their views known. The only difference is that instead of having four councillors present, there will now be two.”

Documents and minutes considered at the meetings will also remain available to the public and media.

The U-turn was announced as a meeting of a council scrutiny board took place yesterday.

It is the second council U-turn in days after a ban on old ice cream vans was scrapped.