I want to talk about process. We took part in the Preferred Options consultation in 2015. The Coldwaltham site was taken out of the Plan. Now it’s come back different, enlarged and more contentious. But there has been no public consultation on it and indeed no clear consultation at all. Yet it’s a major development: it should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest. (And it keeps on changing).
The parish council and local people have been told they can have their say in September during the Reg. 19 consultation. I am afraid this is illusory. This consultation will not be on the merits. It will be on the soundness and legality of the draft, very high hurdles to jump. People can make points on the merits but the planning authority won’t have to deal with them. The site will stay in the Plan. It’s soundness and legality that the Inspector will examine.
It rings very hollow for local people to be told this is a landscape-led Plan when they can’t even comment on this blot on the landscape. No wonder they feel disenfranchised. The Local Plan process should be seen to be fair; it should be seen to be reasonable. Instead it just looks mechanical. Major changes could be made to the Plan today and I would like to suggest that this Policy SD64 is an obvious candidate. A decision to remove it and hold a fresh consultation would demonstrate natural justice and the Plan would be the sounder for it.