Horsham District Council this week defended its consultation on its draft planning framework.
It said it had not investigated claims by the council’s vice-chairman Christian Mitchell that two fake letters had been submitted in support of the blueprint because of staff time and no ‘justifiable cause’ to do so.
A spokesperson from Horsham District Council commented: “Questions have been raised in the past two weeks in the WSCT newspaper about the validity of last year’s public consultation on the council’s draft planning framework.
“A consultation is not a vote for or against a policy, its purpose is to invite views to inform the further development of a strategy or plan – in this case the Preferred Strategy for the Horsham District Planning Framework. All the comments received that relate to the content of the strategy are carefully considered by the council’s senior planning officers to inform any changes.
“The council robustly defends the process and the integrity of the way this consultation was carried out. Our consultations on planning policy documents follow a set of clearly defined guidelines contained within our “Statement of Community Involvement”. This is a legislative requirement and ensures that anyone with something to say can contribute their opinions freely, openly and transparently.
“There were 1861 responses to this consultation. The vice-chairman of the council, Cllr Christian Mitchell, asked for an investigation of two letters of response. He asked that every council-owned computer should be examined to ensure that the letters had not originated from any of these devices. He was advised that this was not justified because of the staff time it would involve and the legislative constraints on such action. The council did not feel that it had any ‘justifiable cause’ under data protection legislation to investigate any particular individual’s IT equipment.
“Approximately ten per cent of responses to the consultation were in support, 80 per cent objecting, with another ten per cent commenting in a neutral way. With the majority of expressions being negative (mostly from residents in the north Horsham area) it is clear that the two letters that were queried did not alter the proportions of positive to negative responses.
“In common with other councils, as part of the freedom of access for anyone who wishes to participate, the council doesn’t verify the origins of contributors or vet them, except to remove any with defamatory content.”