Difficulty in accessing and responding to information

JUST two weeks ago I wrote about the difficulty our parish councils and residents have in accessing and responding to information prepared by Arun DC as part of the Local Plan process.

The latest example is their consultants’ Visioning Study for the 3 Villages.

I said previously: “We must have better working between ADC and our communities, for the benefit of the whole district.”

What we need is a statement of commitment to greater open-ness made in public by the chairman and vice-chairman of the planning committee at the local plan sub-committee meeting on March 7.

ADC issued Barnham Parish Council (BPC), one of three parishes affected by a proposed new town of 2,000 houses at Eastergate, a copy of their consultants’ study with just six days for comment.

I asked Aldingbourne PC whether further documents had been issued (which seems to be the only way of finding out such ‘sensitive’ information), only to find that Aldingbourne PC knew of it from Barnham PC, but had not received it themselves, that Barnham’s came with the usual warning from ADC about confidentiality.

Aldingbourne Parish includes Westergate, where hundreds of the proposed houses would lie and thousands of extra cars would pass through daily, yet ADC had not thought to consult our elected representatives.

By the time they receive it, our own councillors will have hardly any time to read, discuss and comment.

This is astonishing, completely undemocratic.

ADC councillors and staff must remember parish councillors are volunteers, juggling council duties with work and family.

They deserve time to give important planning matters proper consideration and to discuss them with local people to represent them.

It is inappropriate to issue documents for comment with a warning of confidentiality when they are neither commercially nor employment sensitive.

This attitude of secrecy is damaging the reputation of ADC and its councillors, who I witness becoming viewed with increasing disillusionment among local residents.

This is easily avoided by greater openness.

The government is encouraging democratic engagement through the localism agenda and neighbourhood planning, but Arun DC’s processes and attitudes are getting in the way.

Refusal to allow this new document to be shared only fosters suspicion: it was commissioned to work up the ‘Garden City type development’ of 2,000 houses ADC advocated in the local plan, but I suspect it fails to explore properly the consequences and limitations.

Garden Cities were philanthropic initiatives: owned and run by a trust, only a small proportion of land developed, the rest farmland growing food so they were self-sustaining, providing local employment and family houses with large gardens to grow food and allotments.

This new town cannot possibly deliver that and fund an A29 bypass, which is its main objective, let alone all the health, education and social infrastructure needed.

The irony is that while Arun objected to a ‘town’ at Ford, it expects Aldingbourne, Eastergate and Barnham to accept a ‘city’! Louise Beaton

Vice Chairman

Villages Action Group