BSCF Response to East Herts Council Public Consultation on Draft Statement of Community Involvement

Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation

Response to East Herts Council Public Consultation on Draft Statement of Community Involvement

Submitted on 1 August 2019

The BSCF responded to the published Draft Statement of Community Involvement (in town planning policy and application matters) on the following topics / paragraph references:

Statutory Consultees – para 3.7 – 3.8

There is a lack of clarity between para 3.7 which includes “Voluntary organisations that represent the interests of specific parts of the community” as bodies who are “Statutory Consultees” (required to be consulted in all cases) and para 3.8 which lists “Community Groups” as “Other Consultees”. Appendix A divides Statutory Consultees into “Specific” and “General” Consultation Bodies – the latter including “voluntary bodies some or all of whose activities benefit any part of the local planning authority’s area”. Most community groups would define themselves in this way – including specifically Bishops Stortford Civic Federation – but none are treated as statutory consultees in either the policy making or application consultation process. The Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) should clarify the status of such organisations.

Supplementary Planning Documents – Para 3.1 / 3.13

We note that Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) are subject to consultation under the policy planning process. Table 2 in para 3.13 specifies consultation requirements on evidence gathering and community engagement under Regulations 12 and 13. SPDs are often required to provide the framework for the masterplanning and pre-application process for major developments – as for example under District Plan Policy BISH8(I) for Old River Lane. It appears however that, in this case, the masterplanning, preapplication and some application processes have commenced before the SPD process and its consultation requirements. In these cases, the SCI should specify more clearly the sequencing of public and other stakeholder consultation opportunities and requirements before the SPD process is engaged.

Registration of Organisations – para 3.9

We welcome the opportunity in para 3.9 for people and organisations to register themselves as consultees in future planning policy consultations. The BSCF will do so and encourage our Resident Association members and others to do the same. We assume this database will not simply comprise those registered as users on the Council’s general consultation portal but provide a database of interested stakeholders on relevant matters for all planning consultation processes.

Masterplanning Consultation and Participation – paras 6.7 - 6.9

Para’s 6.7 to 6.9 set out new masterplanning consultation provisions for this Statement of Community Involvement referring to District Policy DES1 and individual development policies (e.g., in Bishops Stortford, policies BISH5 and BISH6). These policies were specifically added in the Inspector’s Modifications and bring the consultation process in line with the requirements of the NPPF para 40 to include non-statutory consultees and the local community in the pre-application process. We welcome these additions that “Masterplans must involve collaboration (by the prospective applicant/developer) with East Herts District Council, other stakeholders and the local community, including town/ parish councils”. The Council’s approach has been to establish Masterplan Steering Groups for all major developments over 50 houses. However in Bishop’s Stortford, despite the specific participation requirements of BISH5, the masterplan for Bishop’s Stortford South was approved and, indeed the planning application submitted, without the participation in the Steering Group of councils other than EHC and the belated inclusion of Thorley Parish Council. No other stakeholders or community groups were included at all. We understand that the Masterplan Steering Group for BISH6 has commenced on the same basis without the participation required under the SCI. In view of this we recommend that the SCI is more explicit about which stakeholders and community organisations should participate throughout the Masterplan process. The database of registered interests proposed at para 3.9 could also be used to identify relevant stakeholders.

Application Stage – paras 6.17, 6.22-23, 6.27-28

Para 6.17 provides for a 21-day formal public consultation period. This is the minimum provided for in Guidance and should be extended to 42 days for major applications.

Para 6.22 states that the “Council will take account of all responses received as a result of its consultations on planning applications” and “will be considered in the officer’s report” (OR). The community have a poor impression that this is the case, even where these are material planning considerations. They also do not believe that all the relevant planning issues raised in consultation have informed the recommendation. ORs and recommendations on major applications should be publicly released to all objectors significantly earlier than the current few days before Development Management Committee(DMC) meetings. This would to enable them to consider whether their views have been taken into consideration and to make representations to the DMC under para 6.28 of the SCI.

Para 6.27 should provide for all major applications to be determined by the DMC to be considered at a dedicated DMC meeting as close as possible to the location of the proposed development – as has been the precedent in the past.

Para 6.28 suggests that supporters, objectors and town/parish council representatives have 3 minutes to make statements to the DMC. Footnote 10 however clarifies that this actually comprises 3 minutes for “up to one person” (though it is not clear what less than 1 person would mean) to speak in support and one in objection only. This requires one person to represent all objectors – regardless of who, how many or the nature of their objection – in 3 minutes. For anything other than the most minor application (which would not anyway go to DMC) this is wholly impractical. When I recently presented objections on behalf of over 1,450 objectors to the development of Bishops Stortford South, it was suggested that I could share this 3 minutes with other objectors! On that occasion the time was extended to 6 minutes – but only in a vote taken at the meeting. Combined with the late availability of the OR (see above) these arrangements are unworkable. For major applications (as defined in the masterplanning process) the SCI should take the opportunity to reconsider:

Submitted 1st August 2019