Why consult the public if council don’t consider all views?

Have those members of the public that participated in Arun’s recent draft local plan public consultation checked to see if officers have allowed their submission to be considered by councillors?

I checked the 1,000-plus page document summarising the public comments and discovered my own submission had been excluded. I then contacted senior officers to ask for an explanation.

I was informed, in an email that ‘your representation was received but unfortunately it was filtered out as spam and quarantined’.

I found this quite interesting because I have email read receipts from Cllr Mrs Smee (chairman), Wendy Ashenden-Bax (monitoring officer), Nigel Lynn (Chief Executive), Ricky Bower (cabinet member for planning), Karl Roberts (assistant director planning and economic regeneration) and Simon Meecham (head of planning policy and conservation). Readers can decide for themselves if they accept the spam filter explanation. I don’t!

After further discussion officers then gave me an assurance that ‘the representations on the local plan will be published in full then’. My submission was then published as part of the agenda for the local plan sub-committee meeting on March 7. However, the concerns I raised relating to the process followed by the council and its potential impact on the soundness of the local plan were withheld from the committee.

When I questioned this I was told: “The issue here is the difference between sending in representations concerning the content of the draft Local Plan versus representations on process. These comments are not considered to be representations on the draft local plan. But do not despair. These comments may well suit the next round of consultation which concerns whether or not the plan as a whole is justified. Here you can make comment on site selections/alternatives and so on.”

At least we now know why there are no consultation comments from the public relating to process, site selections/alternatives etc. They have been edited out by officers. We can only wonder what else has been edited out?

I remain concerned that the local plan sub-committee is being prevented from considering important evidence relating to the soundness of the local plan before they are asked to approve the pre-submission local plan on May 17.

I raised this with the Planning Inspectorate, who said: “The Inspectorate only examines local plans on submission and thus we have no purview to intervene in the process or question any decisions made by the council prior to submission.”

However, my full submission, along with appendices, was subsequently published on the Arun website with other representations – for a short time only. Now it has been taken down again! Arun moves in mysterious ways! For those interested to read what has been prevented from formal consideration by members, my submission can be read in full at http://objectionstoarunslocalplan.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/consultation-submission-by-former-district-councillor-tony-dixon/

As a former member of the council, my intention has always been to give members an early opportunity to formally consider the relevance of these matters, in order to reduce the risk of the plan being found unsound at a later stage. I would not want the district to be left undefended, without a local plan, if that could be prevented by speaking up at an earlier stage.

I feel it is important for members of the public to be made aware some consultation evidence is not being formally presented to councillors for their consideration, until after they have made a decision. Members of the public may want to check their own consultation submissions.

Tony Dixon

Barons Close