A COUNCIL has agreed to relax its rules on conflict of interest so councillors who farm can take part in a discussion on tree planting.

Powys council has agreed to allow a dispensation after a previously planned debate on how the county could consider a 'sustainable' approach to tree planting couldn't go ahead as so many of its councillors are involved in agriculture.

It's thought around three quarters of the council's 73 members would have had to declare an interest and leave any discussion.

Now the dispensation has been granted the councillors would still be unable to vote on the motion but can speak during meetings - though due to local government elections taking place in May the rule has only changed in principle and cannot take effect until the new council is in place.

Plaid Cymru group leader Cllr Elwyn Vaughan tabled the motion on “responsible afforestation a non-exploitative and sustainable approach” in December last year.

The council’s standards committee has now approved Cllr Vaughan’s plea for a dispensation.

Tree planting has proved a hot topic with the Welsh Government setting a target to plant 86 million trees in nine years but concern farmland is being bought up by investment firms.

He said: “Wood planting is an issue in different parts of Wales and how public grants are used in that.

READ MORE: Demands for farmland protection against foreign companies

“What we’ve found is that about 75 per cent of the council would be affected and would need to declare and interest, and would not be allowed to participate in the process as they would so wish.

“That in itself ironically is very much like a gagging on democracy whereas in reality a lot of those experiences and knowledge would be useful to the conversation.”

Independent member Claire Moore said: “I support the general dispensation to allow members to speak on matters relating to agriculture.

“It’s in the council’s best interest to hear from those who have experience in farming or agriculture issues before making a decision, I would like to support it.”

Cllr Amanda Jenner said:  “As someone who has no knowledge of agriculture would find it difficult to vote on something without hearing from people in the industry.

“It’s a specific sector, it’s not like social services where we could go and do our own research.”

Allowing the dispensation was supported unanimously.

READ MORE: Rural councillors want permission to discuss agricultural issues

Head of legal and democratic services Clive Pinney said that the dispensation would be in place for the rest of the council term.

But he said there would be a “lacuna” which means a time gap where it won’t be in place due to the local government elections in May.

“Like all dispensations from the Standards Committee it falls at the end of term and will have to be renewed at the first standards meeting of the next council term, said Mr Pinney.

Cllr Vaughan’s original motion wanted to  the council to ask the Welsh Government to:

  • Ensure that funding via the Glastir Woodland Creation scheme (Welsh Government) can only be claimed by active farmers in Wales.
  • Introduce planning development legislation to enable local planning authorities s to control afforestation projects, and to set a limit on the proportion of land on any farm that can be used for without the need for planning consent.
  • Deliver its afforestation plans by developing a publicly owned arms-length company to manage Wales’s forestry and help reach the Welsh Government’s carbon reduction targets.

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