Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan public consultation Image: ceebeestock AdobeStock_207781879

Hearing told consultation “wasn’t fit for purpose”

When a council compiles its Local Plan, it has to commit to engaging residents, interest groups and stakeholders in the process. This involves setting out the future development of homes, jobs and community facilities, as well as consulting on planning applications.

In his opening speech to the Examination Hearing on 21 May, Central Bedfordshire Council’s (CBC) deputy leader, Cllr Wenham, mentioned the public consultation processes used by the Council. He said:

“Over and above the standard processes of submitting representations, we have worked hard to ensure that all the voices of Central Bedfordshire have been heard and are reflected in the development of this plan.”

He added that this included community planning workshops, social media campaigns, inviting local people to tell us their priorities, media promotions and exhibitions.

Part of the first day of the Public Hearing into the Local Plan was to ask if CBC’s public consultation had been carried out in accordance with the local plan regulations.

Silvia Amantea-Collins, who was representing a group of Toddington residents, felt that the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement did not meet its aim and was “not fit for purpose“.

She added that the Statement referred to a combination of methods but it didn’t work out in that way for her village:

“For us there was one leaflet delivered in the spring of 2016. The leaflet was so generic that it contained no specific details about how this might pan out in the long run.

“It was referring to 2035 and Central Bedfordshire generally. It did not contain any details to make anyone believe that this had anything to do with our village.”

Ms Amantea-Collins added that residents were “doomed to darkness” if they didn’t sign up for future information.

“We have a whole village that didn’t know anything about the local plan and its implication to Toddington until a few weeks before the final consultation.”

The Hearing was told that these residents did not believe that one leaflet in 2016 was an adequate consultation.

“This is in contrast to the bin campaign which was communicated in a simple, clearly defined way with a very easy process to follow.”

Independent Examination of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan

Maria Spearing, chair of Ridgmont Parish Council agreed that the process was lacking in engagement. She said:

“Ridgmont parish council had one poster and ten leaflets. Also, the drop-in sessions were very confusing because it called in people from different villages, with different needs and views.

“This actually set people against each other.”

She added that many Ridgmont residents felt that the plan was being rushed through.

“We were constantly told we ‘must get this plan through’.

“There was also emotional blackmail as we were told that if the Plan didn’t go through then housing would be imposed on us by central government.”

Ms Spearing concluded by saying that the consultation process “was flawed“.

“It failed to bring on board and engage residents in a constructive way so they felt that their views were being heard and would be reflected in the local plan.”

In response, CBC told the hearing that its email alert system has 10,000 email addresses of those interested in planning matters.

It added that social media was used to involve younger people. This included videos, which had an “extensive number of hits” and were shared on village Facebook groups.

Also, press releases were sent to local media, and ward members and town and parish councils were used to disseminate information on the Local Plan.

“We are content that the range of different methods used to promote the local plan were very comprehensive.”

CBC added that it did front load the consultation with various events and exercises before it was required by the regulation process.

“As well as doing the online consultation, which in 2019 I feel is entirely appropriate, we have a big presence on our website which is easy to access.”

Ms Amantea-Collins said that a “huge number” of Toddington residents are not online. Also, the village does not get a free local newspaper so it didn’t see the press releases.

The Examination Hearing Programme is to run over five weeks:

  • 21-24 May 2019 – Week 1 hearing sessions
  • 11-14 June 2019 – Week 2 hearing sessions
  • 18-21 June 2019 – Week 3 hearing sessions
  • 16-19 July 2019 – Week 4 hearing sessions
  • 23-26 July 2019 – Week 5 hearing sessions

A date for the final ruling has not been set.

Visit the CBC website for more information on the Independent Examination of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan.