Author: Cyril Richert
We have often highlighted the issues with the lack of consultation in planning decisions:
- Redevelopment of CJ station (twin towers CJ): artificial support orchestrated by the developers.
- Hotel scheme 2009: insufficient consultation from the developers for the size of the proposed development.
- Consultation on the SSAD document (the detail vision of the council policy for the next 15 years): the Council missed the deadline for Brightside, according the planning officer and therefore only advertised the consultation in the local Guardian than most don’t get/don’t read. A meeting was only organised 1 week before the end of the consultation period by the Putney Society to explain the implication of the new plans and at that date the number of different representations was only a couple of dozens, as we were told.
The Putney Society sent a formal letter of complaint to WBC (probably the first time it happened!) in relation to “missing” residents/groups comments on this latest consultation. This included the CJAG’s own comments addressed to Martin Howell, as he encouraged us to do so during his presentation meeting (he contacted us since then and the issue was fixed).
You can read the full letter of the Putney Society HERE. In 3 small and simple paragraphs on 1 page + 7 lines (including signature) the Society explains that:
- Because individuals’ comments are broken up under “consultation points” in the system used by the Council for their planning strategy consultation, it is almost impossible to see how many contributions have been received and the overall context of a submission. In addition the portal had technical failures which meant that access was denied to parts of the system until pointed out by a constituent and Putney Society member.
- Some representations made by groups or individuals were missing.
You may think that a sensible answer would have been to apologise for the mistake, promise to do the best for the future, and also think about ways of improving the system, welcoming comments and views.
Actually it triggered a 3 page response from the borough planner, Tony McDonald! (click on images below to open it).
He first reminds us that the original consultation was meant to end on the 5th February, then extended to the 16th. It is useful here to remember that the planning officer told us previously that by the 29th January 2010, only 20 (as I heard, but the Putney Society told me 38) were received. The CJAG submitted on the deadline, Feb 5th. Therefore I don’t know if we need to understand that the Council made a favour in extending the consultation, or that the poor level of responses due to the lack of publicity lead to the change of dates.
At the end of page 2 of the letter (after 5 paragraphs explaining the process) we understand that the Council received in total responses from 168 different parties. Keep in mind that from the 11th Dec 09 to 29th Jan 10 they received 20-40 letters, and more than 120 more in just the first 2 weeks of February, after the meeting organised by the Putney Society, not the Council!
In order to see how easy and transparent it is to use the Council’s consultation website, let me explain: You have 491 comments. They are broken down letters received: The CJAG submission is broken down in 6 different contributions; the Putney Society submissions is broken down into 16 different comments; English Heritage: 23; Justine Greening: 7…etc. I found 161 distinct contributors. How to do that? Copy the full list from the Council’s website into Excel. Then select the range where the duplicates are (Consultee). Go to data, Advanced Filter, select “Copy to new location“, leave the “Critiera” field empty, and make sure you have checked “Unique Entries Only“. You see?
To be fair, the words “I apologise” arrived on page 3 of the letter, on the 15th paragraphs (of 17).
“Appropriate publicity should be agreed with Council Members and officials at the pre-application stage and should use images which demonstrably reflect the true appearance, height and mass of the development measurable against neighbouring buildings.“
In the last planning forum (November 2009), I raised again the question and reported:
“As it was said that the Council rely on the local newspaper to publicised the application, I suggested that Brightside could be used for – let say 1/2 page – informing on current/forthcoming major application. It was eventually said that it is up to the editor to decide what place to consider, beside a problem with time-scale for publishing information (the period of consultation is usually 2 weeks!). Surely for major development the consultation last several months and there should be plenty of time.
Conclusion of the Council Officer: it is as good as it is, nothing more will be done (no room for improvement!) Ah, I forgot: in the meeting in April, Tim Cronin said: “”if you register on the planning portal, you will be able to log-in and access information on any change of policy“. Therefore you will appreciate the current answer on the website:
The ‘Register Area of Interest’ web pages are temporarily unavailable.
Should we launch a campaign to have the right of being properly informed? I will definitely follow up on this topic.“
As the Putney Society said, it is very unsatisfactory for engaged members of the public to be confronted with the above issues and the transparency of some process may be a basis for the ultimate outcome of the consultation to be challenged.
To finish with a more positive ton, I would say that…. it could be worse (apparently Southwark Council previous administration used to pre-empt predictable objections and present local people with a fait accompli by adopting policies that nobody new about). But that does not mean that there shouldn’t be any effort made for improving the current situation.
Actually, talking about consultation, don’t forget to tell us what your think on Clapham Junction station redevelopment and send us your contribution.