We’ve been saying it for more than six months. Now our lawyers have spelt it out for the benefit of the Council.
The consultation period for the Draft Statement of Community Involvement ended this week. This document, when finalised, will set out the rules governing what say residents will have, firstly, in the Review of our Local Plan, and secondly, in the ongoing consideration of Planning Applications through the next few years.
The Council’s Draft Statement contains a number of escape clauses, allowing them considerable freedom to decide whether to consult properly with residents or not. One clause (para 3.10) actually excludes any discussion of the methodologies the Council will use to generate the housing targets and all the other numbers they will calculate.
What that means is that any consultation will be largely meaningless. “Here are the numbers,” they would be saying, “and we will not entertain any questions about them.” Roll on a minimum of 8000 dwellings over the next twenty years, as they said in the document they were so cross about when it was “leaked” to us. (It should never have been kept secret in the first place.)
So we sought legal opinion. (Thanks to all those who helped pay for it by contributing to the Fighting Fund.) The legal position is as follows:
The Draft Statement of Community Involvement does not go far enough to satisfy the requirements of the relevant legislation and guidance for community involvement
* Consultation must (not “may”) be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage
* Consultation must (not “may”) include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response
* Adequate time must (not “may”) be given for this purpose
* The product of consultation (including the current consultation on the Draft Statement of Community Involvement) must (not “may”) be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken.
That means residents are entitled to be consulted from the earliest stages of the Review of our Local Plan. And that also means that the final version of the Draft Statement of Community Involvement could be challenged in court if it does not measure up to the requirements of the law.
The meaning of the word “consultation” is set out in detail, quoting from judgements from the High Court all the way to the House of Lords, now the Supreme Court.
That legal definition of “consultation” is somewhat different from what the word has come to mean in Spelthorne. It specifically does not mean politely thanking residents for their comments, and then, just as politely, ignoring them.
There are any number of Spelthorne residents with direct experience of the planning process and associated disciplines, who are well able and willing to contribute valuable expertise to the process of a Local Plan Review. Surely the end product of such a process – properly involving residents – would be something valuable?
It would provide full democratic legitimacy when the Local Plan is challenged by developers, as it inevitably will be over time. After all, the Local Plan should be for and about the residents of Spelthorne. We are the ones who will have to bear the consequences.
One wonders what the Council are so afraid of.
Keep Kempton Green