As a resident who attended the district plan meeting last week, I found the whole process ‘long winded’ and heavily in favour of developers.
The meeting started at 10.00 am and finished at 4.30 with a short break for coffee and lunch.
If this same process is replicated throughout the country, then it is certainly time for a change and collectively a serious waste of local taxpayers’ money. In times of austerity, no council can afford to waste a senior officer’s time and I am afraid too much time was wasted by the Inspector.
Most of those invited to participate in the discussion were developers. Every time the Planning Inspector made a critical comment regarding evidence, every developer commented and as you can imagine some of these comments were derogatory and the sole aim of the developers was to have the district plan rejected, so that further building on green spaces can continue.
I am surprised that Claire Tester was able to keep a ‘cool head’, as well as note the points being made and respond accordingly.
This went on for hours.
No officer should be put in this position.
Developers had already submitted their comments to the Planning Inspector and at the end of the day it is the Inspector that has to be satisfied with the answers, not the developers.
The meeting became repetitive and developers had to be reminded on more than one occasion that discussions on numbers could not be discussed at this meeting.
It would have been far better for the Planning Inspector to meet with Claire Tester in the chamber armed with developers’ comments and to review the evidence on a one to one basis. The developers could have sat in the gallery along with the council taxpayers observing the proceedings.
I am also surprised that the Planning Inspector did not call on Gary Marsh, the Cabinet Member for planning to ascertain his knowledge and involvement with the evidence process. This would have been far more constructive than listening to developers none of whom contribute financially to the District and as far as I am aware, none of the developers are Sussex based.
The Inspector is now waiting on evidence from Brighton & Hove City Council, Adur DC and Worthing BC to ascertain whether MSDC has complied with the co-operation requirement as set out in the NPPF.
Clearly this is a two way process and even if a council rejects MSDC statements on co-operation it all adds to ‘their own co-operation process’.
Mid Sussex cannot take on board all the neighbouring council’s shortfall in housing needs, particularly the coastal strip and further work needs to be undertaken to ensure that those councils have exhausted all possibilities for their area. The figure of 10,600 already includes external needs and we do not want this figure to increase.
This is new legislation and no doubt there is an element of treading water to ascertain what is required by the process. With hindsight there are many councils who could have done things better, but to consider rejecting a plan on this initial
work is totally ridiculous and the reputational risk for central government and local government is too weighty an issue.
I have written to Nicholas Soames to ascertain whether he can raise this issue with Nick Boles the Planning Minister so that the process can be improved and the position regarding developerand ratepayers ‘put on a more even footing’.