HARROW residents will soon have the power to ask senior council officials to explain their recommendations and force councillors to debate issues in public, under new transparency rules.
Petitions with at least 1,000 names would require one of Harrow Council's eight top civil servants to address petitioners' questions, while petitions on other matters containing more than 2,000 signatures would automatically be debated at a full council meeting - but for a maximum of just 10 minutes.
Under new transparency rules, residents will also be able to create electronic petitions lasting for up to 12 months on the council's website, once the software has been introduced later this year.
The plans are contained in a draft policy on how to handle residents' petitions that is to be discussed at the full council meeting this evening (Thursday).
The council has to adopt such transparency rules under the new Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act that has come into force.
A officer's report to the meeting says: "If a petition contains at least 1,000 signatures of people who live, work or study in the borough, the relevant senior officer will be called to give evidence in public at a meeting of our overview and scrutiny committee.
"A petition may ask for a senior council officer to give evidence at a meeting about something for which the officer is responsible as part of their job.
"The petition must relate solely to the officer's job and not their personal circumstances or character.
"For example, your petition may ask a senior official to explain progress on an issue, or to explain the advice given to elected members to enable them to make a particular decision."
The petition policy also formalises the timescale and passage of the petition through the council to the relevant decision-making body.
Several sizeable petitions have passed through Harrow Civic Centre in recent years, including one started in 2009 by The Pinn Medical Centre Patients' Association, signed by 1,750 calling on the council to scrap the parking fees at The Pinn Medical Centre in Love Lane, Pinner. The request was later rejected.
In March, resident James Bond - since elected as an independent councillor for Headstone North - presented a 1,247-name petition requesting safety alterations to the traffic lights at the junction of George V Avenue, Headstone Lane and Pinner Road in North Harrow.
Last summer, the Campaign For A Better Harrow Environment produced a list in excess of 3,000 names in opposition to the Dandara's proposal to turn the former Post Office site in College Road, Harrow, into flats.
WHO WILL BE ACCOUNTABLE?
The senior civil servants who could be questioned are:
* Chief executive Michael Lockwood * Assistant chief executive Tom Whiting
* Director of legal and governance services Hugh Peart
* Corporate director of finance Myfanwy Barrett
* Corporate director of children's services Catherine Doran
* Corporate director of community and environment Brendon Hills
* Corporate director of adults and housing Paul Najsarek
* Corporate director of place shaping Andrew Trehern