John Steele: Lack of information shows contempt for the people

Horsham Society
Horsham Society

Last week Cllr Ray Dawe subjected us to another of his patronising columns suggesting that the public are really too stupid to understand the issues around the need for more housing and why it must almost all be dumped in North Horsham.

Councillors had been invited to a meeting with a leading barrister and expert in housing and planning who had, it seems, explained why the plans he has drawn up with Cllr Claire Vickers were the only viable option. If Mr Dawe did not hold electors in such contempt it might have occurred to him to share this wisdom more widely. Surely, if the case was so clear, the barrister’s explanation would immediately win everyone over?

It is ironic, therefore, that only two days before Cllr Dawe’s article appeared the Council had refused our request for a copy of the video recording that was taken of the meeting.

So there we have it. Cllr Dawe has a video recording with irrefutable evidence that he, and only he, is right. It is presumably evidence which he hopes councillors irrespective of party will take into account when the Council votes on his housing strategy on 30 April. But, we, the electorate are to be kept in the dark.

Seemingly, Cllr Dawe doesn’t see the irony of his position. It is simply another example of his style of secret policy making and contempt for democracy.

We have appealed against the decision and will take it to the Information Commissioner if necessary but by then it will be too late. And this, too, is typical of the Council’s obsession with secrecy and obstruction.

Apart from occasional leaks from Fortress Dawe, the only way to discover what is really going on in the Council is through Freedom of Information requests. The Council has a duty to respond promptly but routinely delays for the maximum permitted time – often 40 working days – only then to turn them down. The next step is the appeal which is another lengthy process which in our experience seldom if ever leads to a change of heart. Only, then can we ask the Information Commissioner to give a ruling.

The Council’s contempt for the process is demonstrated by a request we made in July 2013 for information on the relationship between the Council and the developers of the new Waitrose store. In September the Council admitted there was an agreement but refused to disclose it. It took until this month before the Information Commissioner intervened and HDC caved in and released the document and emails.

In another case, HDC told us last November that they were considering releasing a document about the proposed new rail station for North Horsham. Four months later we still haven’t received it. Perhaps it is being withheld until after the vote on 30 April.

So let’s get back to the matter in hand. Can we see the unedited video recording of the advice given to our councillors by a barrister before the 30th April 2014 so that we can see the error of our ways? Just give us the facts is all we ask.

The Horsham Society is concerned about the past, present and future of the town. It seeks to promote good planning and design for the built environment and open spaces. Membership of the Horsham Society is open to anyone, who shares these concerns. For more information, visit our website or telephone 01403 261640.