‘Our Plan’ has become a sham

Friday 9th January 2015 12:00 am
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Richard Howell, of Higher Norris Farm, North Huish, South Brent, writes: According to South Hams District Council: 'Our Plan will be an overarching strategic plan for the whole district to 2031. 'It will,' it says, 'cover a wide range of topics, from issues such as community well-being, energy needs and landscape protection through to employment growth, housing and infrastructure.' First introduced to town and parish councils eight months ago, on May 2, and to other interested parties in the weeks that followed, no more than six weeks were given in which to respond. Not surprisingly, Sally Fairman, clerk to Cornwood Parish Council, was outraged. She wrote: 'The parish ­council is thoroughly dismayed that you are allowing so little time for the dissemination of the details to councillors and thus the local communities. 'We are also very concerned that you have such a focus on consulting with developers and land agents – these people do not represent the communities yet you are offering "specific events" to talk through your plan with them. This will create a developer-led plan, because developers will have the ­greatest vested interests in ­having the plan in place.'Nor was she alone in her fears. In conclusion, she warned: 'Offering only a very short timescale for consultation is usually a sign that the decisions are already made.' Separately, Stuart Watts, the chairman of Bigbury Parish Council, commented: 'The ­presentation of "Our Plan" is so anodyne and lacking in hard facts and figures as to be almost worthless as a consultation document. 'Whether it will engender any valuable responses,' he cautioned, 'remains to be seen.' Of the 76 responses that were eventually received, no fewer than 11 came from housebuilders, developers or their agents. Since then the council has produced a series of newsletters intended to answer the points raised, to which residents and others were again invited to respond. The most recent, entitled 'Our Resources', in which the council said the plan should include strategies and policies capable of achieving significant carbon reduction, was ­published on 1 December. Despite Christmas intervening, comments had to be received by Monday, January 5. Not only was such a timescale arguably insufficient, but according to the timetable on the council's website, a final version of the plan is to be ­submitted for independent examination and approval towards the end of this month. Should this be the case, it seems residents and others will not be able to comment further, even though the Government's own planning guidance makes clear that 'local planning authorities must publicise the version of their Local Plan that they intend to submit to the planning inspectorate for examination to enable representations to come forward that can be considered at examination'. Instead, the council appears to be trying to sneak through a document defining what will happen in the South Hams until 2031; where and when this will occur; and how it is to be ­delivered, without permitting that document to be examined thoroughly in its entirety, and for residents to say whether they approve or not. If we disagree with the ­contents of the plan we can of course replace the councillors responsible when elections take place in May. But once adopted, we will have no choice but to live with their legacy. Hardly a happy thought with which to start the new year.

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