Community figures have rallied to attack a lack of council consultation over a 20,000-home blueprint for Arun district.
Stinging criticisms were aimed at Arun District Council on Monday as residents claimed efforts to engage them in the local plan process were inadequate.
Public examination of the crucial housing document, which outlines the council’s vision for housing and economic growth up to 2031, is ongoing.
Speaking at the first day of the examination, Littlehampton town councillor Derrick Chester outlined the issues faced by the public in having their say.
He said: “‘It was hideously complex’.
“We never had a series of presentations or public meetings to explain to the public what is being proposed. It’s never been done.”
The local plan has been years in the making but has significantly changed in the last two years, with Arun facing a near doubling of its annual housing target – now 1,000 homes per year.
Arun carried a consultation over the latest changes between April 10 and May 30.
Arun officers told inspector Mark Dakeyne they believed they had met the legal requirements.
Local plan team leader Julia Dawe said: “I believe people were able to respond and continued to respond throughout the consultation process.”
Parish councillors confirmed Arun had called a series of briefings to discuss the plan. They argued, however, they were instructional in nature rather than inviting true consultation.
Walberton parish councillor Edmund Camerer-Cuss said: “We absolutely support parishes on the lack of consultation regarding the parish council meetings with have been conducted with megaphone diplomacy by Arun.”
Angmering Parish Council clerk Rob Martin said his authority had only been engaged because it had ‘forced the issue’.
Discussing Arun’s claim things were in order, Aldingbourne Parish Council chairman Martin Beaton said: “As far as our parish is concerned it has not been an inclusive or effective period of consultation and engagement.
“I’ve clearly been living in a parallel universe as it simply hasn’t happened.”
Villages Action Group chairman Laurie Ward suggested Arun could hide behind a ‘legal point’, yet said such a stance was not appropriate.
Siding with residents, planning consultant Paul Collins, representing Keith Langmead Limited said: “It seems to me that where the council have gone wrong with consultation starts with not properly understanding what the previous inspector was asking the council to do.
“He was at pains to stress the council should start with an open mind and not lead to predetermination or a suspicion of predetermination as to the outcomes.
“The answer we have just been given by the council where they said they didn’t look at the alternatives and just looked at the modifications to me summarises the problem with consultation.”
Day one of the examination also saw Mr Collins question whether Arun had fully met its obligation to talk to neighbouring authorities to discuss meeting their housing shortfalls. Arun plans to assist Worthing and Chichester – but not others further afield.
The hearings continue. Click here for a background piece about the local plan.