Letter: Affront to local democracy

Horsham District Council SUS-160714-093947001
Horsham District Council SUS-160714-093947001

I write in response to Cllr Claire Vickers’ explanation as to the rationale for recent amendments made to Horsham District Council’s constitution, following criticism by myself and others as to their restrictive impact on local democracy.

The assertion that the purpose of the changes is not understood is simply untrue. I can advise that not only is it understood, but it is wholeheartedly supported!

However, what is not accepted is that aspect which dogmatically and unnecessarily removes the long-established, judiciously-used, rights of the community (residents and Parish/Neighbourhood councils) to call-in certain applications for planning committee determination.

The types of applications affected have historically rarely been called-in (average one case per year), but this is a strong reason for retaining the call-in right, not blocking it, especially on efficiency grounds.

After the council meeting adopting these changes, the WSCT editorial got it spot on, noting: ‘A number of Tory councillors stood up to say no rights are being taken away by the changes. Rights are being taken away …… No empirical evidence has been presented at any time (in justification)... Residents, and the democratic process, deserve better’.

I am also aware that a number of Parish Councils formally objected to the changes and the total lack of any consultation with them beforehand. Of course I do willingly accept Cllr Vickers’ offer of a face-to-face meeting assuming that the views of both sides can be fully aired and respected.

I turn now to Cllr Vickers’ reporting of the confirmation by HDC’s incoming new Chief Executive (Glen Chipp) that Public Questions at Epping Forest District Council meetings are only admissible if relevant to an item on the Agenda (allegedly along with many other councils).

Readers may recall that HDC imposed this admissibility restriction as part of its ‘streamlined’ new constitution just over a year ago. Well, constitutions are readily available to read on-line, and I can assure Horsham residents that NO such restriction applies at Epping Forest, nor Crawley, nor Chichester, nor Mid-Sussex, nor Adur, nor Worthing district councils.

I have thoroughly researched this and supplied all my evidence to the WSCT.

I therefore call upon Cllr Vickers to similarly supply her ‘evidence’ from Mr Chipp also to the WSCT and let the impartial professional journalists there collate and publish the facts. Readers can then form their own view on the truth of this matter.

Finally, I am pleased to report that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), in a decision notice dated 14th December 2017 has adjudicated in my favour requiring HDC to publish (by today!) an un-redacted copy of the independent report assessing the viability submissions of Liberty Property Trust relating to the massive North of Horsham development.

Despite challenges, HDC deliberately withheld key information from the community whilst the outline planning permission was secured and S106 agreements were negotiated with Liberty. Comments in the ICO report are quite dismissive, e.g. ‘information has been wrongly withheld’; ‘the council has been content to be steered by Liberty’.

Isn’t this regulation breaching censorship yet another example of an affront to a visible and transparent local democratic process in Horsham District?

I think it is.

Paul Kornycky

Cox Green, Rudgwick

Editor’s note: Horsham District Council was approached for a comment to confirm that as Claire Vickers claimed last week, Epping Forest District Council operates a similar policy to questions from residents at its meetings in public.

It appears there is an ‘inconsistency’ in the current documentation available explaining Epping’s constitution, and having been highlighted it is working to remove the ambiguity.

A clause sent to the County Times explains how ordinary council meetings will: ‘receive questions from and provide answers to the public and members of the council in relation to matters which in the opinion of the person presiding at the meeting are relevant to the business of the meeting’.

See also Letter: Horsham district constitution changes explained