Green Party Councillor and General Election Candidate for South Thanet has appealed to Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, to intervene and sort out what he describes as Thanet Council’s “chaotic consultation cock-up”.
Driver contacted Pickles after discovering that 3 major public consultations were taking in place in Thanet at the same time. They are
- · A 8 week consultation on the Thanet’s Local Plan between 9 January and 6th March
- · A 7 week consultation on building a Thanet Parkway Rail Station taking place between 2 February and 27 March
- · A 7 week consultation on the location of National Grid pylons across Thanet’s countryside between 10 February and 27th March
Said Driver “the 3 consultations are running in parallel for a period of 4 weeks. One of those weeks is the half term school holiday when many people, myself included, will be looking after the kids and have no time to read and comment on complex documents. I have calculated that the documentation for the 3 consultations amount to more than 5,000 pages. Each of the consultations are running drop in sessions for the public to find out more and ask questions. Each of the consultations have long complex questionnaires to fill in and return with your views and suggestions. It’s simply inconceivable that anyone would have the time, energy and brain power to read, understand and comment on the overwhelming amount of information in the short time available”.
Driver laid the blame for the disorganisation at the door of Thanet District Council. He said “Thanet Council knew about the Parkway Station and Richborough Pylon consultations months ago, but instead of co-ordinating with the National Grid and Kent County Council and spreading the consultations over a longer period of time, they chose instead to run their own Local Plan consultation at the same time. Surely they must have known that this would lead to a consultation car-crash which would overwhelm the capacity local people to properly participate in the discussion”.
He added “Thanet’s Council utter incompetence in co-ordinating these critically important, once in a generation, place changing, consultations has destroyed democracy in the district. Information overload and lack of time will mean that hundreds, if not thousands of people will be unable to exercise their rights to express properly informed opinions on major developments in the area where they live. Thanet Council has demonstrated that that as a facilitator of local democracy it is simply not fit for purpose. This is why I have approached Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to request that he use his influence and power to persuade Thanet Council to extend its own Local Plan consultation to at least 12 weeks so as to take off some the pressure on people”.
Driver says he raised the issue of consultation time frames with Thanet District Council at a meeting of its Scrutiny Panel before Xmas. At this meeting he alerted officers and councillors to the Government’s Cabinet Office 2013 publication Consultation Principles: Guidance which, although aimed at the civil service is recognised as an important model of best practice for local government as well.The document states that "where the consultation spans all or part of a holiday period (such as half-term school holidays - my insertion) policy makers should consider what if any impact there may be and take appropriate mitigating action". If goes on to say "The amount of time required will depend on the nature and impact of the proposal (for example, the diversity of interested parties or the complexity of the issue, or even external events - (such as several different consultations taking place at the same time - my insertion)) …. For a new and contentious policy, 12 weeks or more may still be appropriate". However both Labour and Conservative councillors and senior council officers did not, according to Driver, “support my request for a minimum 12 week consultation period. In fact they said that 12 weeks was far too long and appeared focused on pushing the consultation through as quickly as possible”. Look where that’s got us now utter chaos, consultation overkill and democracy trampled underfoot”.
For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766
Driver’s e-mail to Eric Pickles.
Dear Mr Pickles
I am writing to express my concern and anger about the way in which Thanet District Council is managing public consultation on its Local Plan.The consultation period is 8 weeks ending on 9th March. The consultation document is 262 pages long plus at least 200 pages of supporting documents. The consultation is taking place over the school half-term holiday when many parents and grand-parents are spending their time caring for children and will not have the opportunity to study and reply to the long and complex consultation documents . Although I am committed to E-Government, Thanet District Council is making little provisionfor people who do not have access to the internet to be included in the consultation. Only 350 hard copies of the Local Plan have been printed. 56 of these copies are for councillors and 30 for local libraries. That leaves 264 copies for a population of 131,000! The Council have told me that they are charging £13 per copy of the local plan. 5 of the Local Plan drop in sessions organised by the Council have been held during the day on workdays, which prevents people with jobs from attending the sessions. The villages which form part of the Thanet District have not had any drop in sessions.
There is enormous interest in the Local Plan as witnessed at public meetings organised by the local community which have been packed and the many letters to the press and comments in the social media. Many people are very concerned about the proposal to build 12,000 new homes with 60% of these homes being built on greenfield sites. Many people are concerned that the the number of new homes proposed in the plan is far in excess of house building numbers in the local plans of neighbouring councils. However I believe that insufficient time has been allowed for people to study the plans and articulate their concerns to the Council.
To make matters worse, there are two other major public consultation exercises taking place at the same time as the Thanet Local Plan consultation.
Kent County Council has organised a consultation on the building of a Thanet Parkway Station. The National Grid has organised a public consultation on its Richborough electricity pylon project which crosses Thanet. I understand that Thanet District Council was advised in advance of these 2 major public consultations but took no action to avoid clashes. We now have the extraordinary situation whereby local people who care about their district will have to read and make sense of almost 1000 pages of documentation related to the the 3 consultations; attend 3 drop in sessions to ask questions and find out more about each of the 3 consultation; make 3 lengthy and complex submissions to each of the consultations and of course look after their children and grand children during half term school holidays. To say that this situation has been incompetently managed is being polite
In my opinion there must be more time allocated to this these extremely important public consultations, which will shape the future of Thanet for our children and grand-children.
I raised this issue at a meeting of the Council's Scrutiny Panel before Xmas. I referred councillors and officers to the Cabinet Office 2013 publication Consultation Principles: guidance which, although aimed at Government departments is an important model of best practice for local government as well. The document states that "where the consultation spans all or part of a holiday period (such as half-term school holidays - my insertion) policy makers should consider what if any impact there may be and take appropriate mitigating action". If goes on to say "The amount of time required will depend on the nature and impact of the proposal (for example, the diversity of interested parties or the complexity of the issue, or even external events - (such as other consultations taking place at the same time - my insertion)),... For a new and contentious policy, 12 weeks or more may still be appropriate". Sadly Thanet's Labour and Conservative councillors did not support my request for a minimum 12 week consultation period. Nor does it appear that allowances for school holidays and other consultations have been made.
It is clear to me that by ignoring best practice, restricting consultation to a mere 8 weeks and failing to make allowances for school holidays and other consultations, the management and political leadership of Thanet District Council are denying local people their right to have well managed and timely democratic consultations which do not clash and are not rushed. This is an insult to local people and a effort to ride roughshod over genuine democratic dialogue with the local community.
I would be grateful if you could use your powers or influence to persuade Thanet Council to extend its public consultation on the Local Plan to 12-14 weeks in order to overcome the problems I have highlighted in this e-mail. There is no place for incompetent democracy dodgers like Thanet in modern local government.
Councillor Ian Driver
Thanet District Council