Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, has called for a significant overhaul of planning consultation after an overwhelming majority of residents said they do not feel listened to by the Local Authority.
Of the 2,944 residents who responded to Mr Browne’s South Cambridgeshire Development Survey, 88% said they did not feel listened to or understood by the District Council when it came to planning matters. Just 10% felt able to say they were being heard by the council, which has a statutory duty to consult residents affected by local planning decisions.
Despite results that show over 80% feel planning and development are important issues, demonstrating a clear interest in the subject from residents, current methods are either not reaching affected residents or not being reflected in the council’s decision-making process.
This comes after an independent report revealed that just 66 residents fully responded to the most recent local plan consultation. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) showed significant failings in the results of a consultation referred to as the "First Conversation", which was carried out by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (GCSP) in January and February 2020. According to the Greater Cambridgeshire Planning Service, the ‘First Conversation’ received over 8,500 responses, a claim the CPRE report refers to as “misleading”. Their analysis shows that figure counts each individual response to every survey question, rather than counting per respondent.
Local planning authorities are required to undertake a formal period of public consultation prior to deciding a planning application, be that by elected councillors or council planning officers. However, while the government dictates that residents must be consulted, it is up to local authorities to set their own schemes of delegation, which respond to parish and constituent feedback.
Mr Browne has been highly critical of planning procedures at the council, which has seen a number of high court decisions against it over the last twelve months and was recently forced to seek court action itself in order to overturn a flawed planning decision. He also supported a compromise proposal following strong opposition to a new scheme of delegation which has reduced the level of local, democratic input into planning decisions in South Cambridgeshire.
Council leaders were also responsible for publicly snubbing thousands of residents who signed a petition against the 25,000 home Thakeham Proposals, not allowing councillors to even discuss the matter despite some leading cabinet members having already prejudiced themselves to campaign against the development.
Mr Browne commented “South Cambridgeshire District Council should hang its head in shame on seeing such a low level of confidence in their consultations.
“The survey shows people are engaged, but they are being badly let down by a council that is more interested in ticking boxes than properly considering the voice of residents. We need that voice to be the most important part of the planning process, and this should be reflected as the Council works towards the next local plan.
“Given the pitiful level of support for current methods, I am calling on South Cambridgeshire District Council needs to rethink their consultation standards.”