URGENT ITEM - Local Plan review: extension of consultation period
Urgent item added 19.2.21
The Cabinet Member for Planning introduced the report which sought to extend the Regulation 19 consultation period of the Local Plan Review to 30 April 2021. He said he wanted as many residents as possible and other interested parties to engage with the consultation and make their views known. The Cabinet Member for Planning explained the impact that the current Covid-19 pandemic had in reducing consultation meetings and access to public buildings to view the consultation documents, but said that all information was on-line, hard copies were available, and virtual meetings with Parish Councils were taking place.
The Cabinet Member for Planning said that he had always hoped for a longer consultation period but was advised that this should not extend too far into the pre-election period. After seeking further legal advice, and working with other Councils, he considered the risk of extending into the pre-election period was appropriate. The Cabinet Member for Planning said the consultation could not wait until after the elections in May 2021 as the final Local Plan submission had to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in August 2021, to hold the Examination in Public (EiP) before the current plan expired in Spring 2022. He said that whilst running the consultation in the pre-election period had to remain non-party political to avoid any conflict, an extension to the consultation would enable more people to respond to the Regulation 19 consultation. He proposed the recommendation.
In seconding the recommendation, the Deputy Cabinet Member for Planning reserved his right to speak.
The Leader said the administration wanted to moved forward, and there was a serious risk of unwanted and evasive planning applications if there was any further delay in holding the consultation. He said the uncertainty around the elections taking place in May 2021 had caused difficulties and there was a danger that the consultation would be used as a campaigning tool which he warned against. The Leader said that given the degree of public concern and the current restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he supported the extension of the consultation for public.
The Leader of the opposition said that the urgency of the report and proposed extension was of the Council’s making as it had not planned properly. He compared the process with another Kent authority who agreed to a Regulation 19 consultation and whose anticipated submission for their plan was a month before SBC’s deadline. The Leader of the opposition said that the administration had ignored opposition Members who had warned against missing out the Regulation B step of the consultation. He said that whilst the extension of the consultation would be supported, it did not go far enough, and he proposed the following additional recommendation which was seconded by Councillor Roger Clark:
That this Council requires the Cabinet Member for Planning to bring the outcome of the consultation to Full Council for consideration by Members on completion of the analysis.
In the debate that followed Members raised points including:
· should have listened earlier to public, Parish Councils and other organisations;
· it was wrong to rush when concerns had been raised;
· there was a duty and responsibility to ensure detailed information was complete and accessible;
· was pleased that the charge for providing hard copies of the document was dropped;
· virtual meetings between Parish Councils and residents should have been part of the communication process earlier;
· asked for the Regulation 19 communications plan to be provided outside of the meeting;
· signposting of all consultation documents on the website needed to be better;
· what were the opposition’s alternative proposals to the plan?;
· highlighted late changes to the plan;
· why had the administration proposed the extension to the consultation now?;
· the Bearing Fruits Local Plan consultations carried out by the previous administration was also 6 weeks;
· original consultation period was far too short and the final document should be considered by Full Council;
· critical of communication to public;
· the current administration agreed not to have a politically balanced Local Plan Panel and had excluded the opposition’s input;
· the previous administration carried out multiple consultations;
· supportive of amendment; and
· sought clarification that the outcome of the consultation come back to Full Council for noting only.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Planning said that the previous administration had not brought back the results of the consultation to Full Council whilst they were in power and he gave examples of late changes to the plan at that time. He said that the plan had been through many different discussions at various meetings and should not be a shock to the community as the opposition had described. He added that Ward Members should be keeping their residents updated. The Cabinet Member for Planning accused the opposition of delaying tactics in order for the plan to fail.
On being put to the vote the amendment was not agreed.
Members discussed the substantive motion.
Councillor Tim Valentine spoke in support of the extension of the consultation and proposed a further amendment. This was seconded by Councillor Ben A Martin:
That the Council consider writing as soon as possible to all households in Swale to draw their attention to the consultation and inform residents how they can respond. The letter will list the location and number of homes of all new allocations under the local plan review.
In debating the amendment, Members raised points including:
· The Inside Swale publication was already about to be circulated – were details of the consultation contained in it?;
· there was a significant budget implication in advising individual households of the consultation;
· spoke in support;
· would rather cancel Inside Swale and use costs to fund a consultation letter to all households;
· the amendment was practical and a worthwhile suggestion;
· more consistency and clarity from the administration was needed;
· high cost to consult but was a good use of money;
· voting against the amendment would exclude the public’s views;
· could adapt the information in Inside Swale to make it as consumer-friendly as possible;
· could not cancel Inside Swale as had a contract;
· individual letter consultation was an unnecessary use of public money;
· a letter consultation was a duplication of information in Inside Swale and was counter-productive;
· some residents were not technically minded and could not access the information on line; and
· during the current restrictions, Councillors could not visit residents with information.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Planning encouraged residents to take part in the consultation and said whilst there was an environmental and cost impact in sending out individual consultation letters, he did not mind if individual consultation letters were sent out.
On being put the vote, the amendment was agreed.
(1) That the period of consultation for the Local Plan review be extended for an additional five and a half weeks to close on Friday 30 April 2021.
(2) That the Council writes as soon as possible to all households in Swale to draw their attention to the consultation and inform residents how they can respond. The letter to list the location and number of homes of all new allocations under the local plan review.