“The Local Plan is the most important document to have been produced by TDC in years” said Driver. “It sets out the Council’s policies on housing, employment, industry, transport and the environment up until 2031. It will have a profound influence upon how our district is developed and shaped over the next 15 years” . An early version of the Local Plan was consulted on in February 2015, provoking a massive public outcry, including demonstrations and marches, when it emerged that 12,400 new homes were planned to be built in Thanet; many on farmland in Birchington, Westgate and Westwood Cross areas. A secret report to councillors (1) has since recommended that the number of new homes required in Thanet by 2031 should be raised to 15,600 a staggering 26% increase.
The council received over 2,000 comments on its early version of the Local Plan, many objecting to the large number of homes planned for Thanet. It was intended that these comments would be taken into account in a final version of Local Plan which TDC must submit to the Government for approval. A timetable for the publication of the final version of the plan, including a second public consultation, was approved by TDCs Cabinet on 10 September 2015. According to the timetable the draft final plan would be published in February 2016 and the public would have between 6-8 weeks to make comments on it. The plan, along with comments from the public, would be submitted to the Government in May 2016 who would then being a formal approval process (2).
But according to Driver this timetable has now been changed, with the publication and consultation on the final version of TDCs local plan being delayed until after 31 May 2016. The change to the timetable was, “sneaked in under the radar without anyone knowing or being told about it via the executive approval of UKIPs Deputy Council Leader, Lin Fairbrass, without reference to other councillors” (3) said Driver. He added: “My suspicion is that this delay has been deliberately engineered so that public consultation on the Local Plan takes place during the school summer holidays when many people are away from home or too busy looking after kids to have the time to study and make comments on a complicated document several hundred pages long. Why do this? Because I believe TDC and UKIP are determined to get approval for its massively inflated housing numbers with the least possible resistance and objection from the public. This is undoubtedly driven by TDCs desire to maximise council tax income following its disastrous multi-£million financial losses on TransEuropa Ferries, Dreamland, Live Exports and the possibility of huge legal and compensation costs for breaking Health and Safety laws”.
Driver also points out that not only will there be a major consultation on the Local Plan but two further, and separate, public consultations on Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) taking place at the same. These are an SPD on Manston Airport which will “set out the planning policy position for different areas of the site, defining the mix of uses that might be acceptable, and establishing design and other planning principles”(4) and an SPD relating to the management of several very important and environmentally sensitive Special Protection Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Thanet. Said Driver “running three major public consultations on issues of overwhelming public interest at the same time is, in my view, an abuse of the democratic process. To then decide to run these consultations over a short, 6-8 week period, during the school holidays when many people are away or looking after children appears to be a determined effort by TDC to deprive hundreds of people of their democratic right to comment on important matters of public policy. This is simply not acceptable”.
Driver claims that “TDCs proposed actions breach the Government’s best practice guidance on managing public consultation. Although not legally binding this guidance suggests consultation periods of up to 12 weeks should be allowed for complex issues such as TDCs Local Plan. It also warns that important consultations should not take place during holiday periods (5). Driver points out that the Local Plan consultation is also likely to clash with a public consultation on Stone Park’s controversial application for developing the former Manston Airport site which, it was recently reported, will be submitted to TDC in April. “Stone Park’s application is bound be to controversial and many people will wish to make comments, but how will they find the time, if three other consultations of great public interest are taking place at the same time?”
Said Driver “had Thanet Council stuck to its original timetable of consulting on the Local Plan in February/ March 2016 instead of during the summer holidays the conflict with other important public consultations would have been avoided. As it stands the people of Thanet now face the possibility a catastrophic consultation car crash with up to 4 major public consultations taking place at the same time. This is simply not fair to local people and is totally avoidable”.
For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ian Driver’s FOI request for a copy of the report about the 15,900 houses was refused by Thanet Council.
- See http://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/mgChooseDocPack.aspx?ID=4048 open public documents pack item 8
- See http://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=26169&Opt=0
- See 2 above
- See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consultation-principles-guidance