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In the absence of notification letters, residents will become more dependent on site notices to keep them informed of planning applications in their area.

Council scraps planning notification letters

As from the New Year Hastings Borough Council will stop sending letters to notify residents of planning applications in their area. The move, confirmed at this week’s Cabinet meeting, has drawn a lot of criticism. Nick Terdre reports.

The decision to scrap notification letters was decided back in February as part of next year’s budget arrangements. It required a change to the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) which was approved by this week’s Cabinet meeting.

Starting on 3 January notification of planning applications will be restricted to fixing a site notice on a nearby lamppost and posting information on the planning section of the council website; and in the case of larger projects notices will be placed in the local paper. Residents may also sign up to be alerted electronically when a planning application is submitted in their area.

At the Cabinet meeting Tory leader Cllr Rob Lee tabled an amendment to the budget provision which would have seen notification letters retained, but it was voted down 6-2 by the Labour majority. The update to the SCI was then approved by 6-1, with one Tory councillor, Andy Patmore, abstaining.

Sad day for local democracy

“It’s a sad day for the town and for local democracy,” Mr Lee told HOT. “A letter through the door is still the best way to notify people of planning applications in their immediate neighbourhood.”

Labour councillor Dawn Poole suggested to the meeting that councillors could help make the new arrangements work. “I pointed out that councillors have a role to play alongside the site notifications which will continue,” she told HOT. “As well as helping people sign up to the online notifications, if I think an application may be of particular concern, I let the two largest residents’ associations in my ward know.”

Chris Lewcock, secretary of the Hastings and Rye Liberal Democrats and a former local authority development control officer, disagreed with the decision to scrap notification letters. “It’s another example of trying to escape democratic accountability,” he told HOT.

Sensible comments foiled

“If people don’t know that a planning application is taking place, how can they possibly be expected to comment on it sensibly? And sometimes people want to support development proposals.”

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Critics find plenty to fault with site notices.

Site notices and online alerts amounted to inadequate provision, in his view. “Especially in our winters, site notices tend to get blown away, and if you are house-bound you’re unlikely to see the site notice anyway,” he said.

“The internet won’t help at all unless you’ve got an internet connection and you’ve known to log in and make sure the council notifies you. It really doesn’t serve a purpose at all, particularly for the elderly.”

Less objections for developers

“The planning system has now become even less democratic and accountable, while greatly benefiting developers who will face less public objections,” said Chris Hurrell of Save Ecclesbourne Group (SEG), which has led protests against the so-called Bunker holiday home in Rocklands caravan park in Hastings Country Park.

“One of the reasons for the Rocklands fiasco was the failure to inform people of the Bunker application,” he said – in this case only two notification letters were sent out.

“This is a false economy that discriminates against those who do not possess a computer – generally the most deprived in our community. It will impact disproportionally on the very demographic that the Labour council claims to support.”

The measure was also criticised by by Andrea Needham of Combe Haven Defenders, whose particular concern is infrastructure and commercial projects.

“There are all sorts of reasons why just putting up site notices is not acceptable: they may get ripped down; people may not see them; housebound people who could be adversely affected will certainly not see them; disabled people who have to use motorised transport won’t see them; people may not see them in time to object to the application (you only have 21 days from when the site notice goes up),” she told HOT.

Democratic rights denied

“It’s all very hit and miss, and the only way to ensure that people know about planning applications that may affect them is to put the relevant notices through their doors. Anything less is – to my mind – a denial of democratic rights.”

According to the council the annual saving from scrapping notification letters will be an estimated £10,000. The motive, as explained in the budget statement, is to free up funds for two initiatives involving the planning department: a £6,000 a year increase in the corporate training budget and an annual £10,000 to fund office-based planning placements from the University of Brighton.

“It’s a relatively small amount of money compared to what the council wastes on consultants,” Mr Lewcock said. “They should stop commissioning pointless consultancies such as that on the Lido site in West Marina and the recent White Rock workshop.”

 

Posted 13:25 Wednesday, Dec 7, 2016 In: Politics

11 Comments


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT
  1. Ms. doubtfire

    All those promises of wonderful things for the old Observer Building and look at what has happened to this iconic building now! Covered in graffiti, yellow paint everywhere. And the messiah who promised so much for the future of this building nowhere to be seen.
    This building is in a conservation area – why didn’t this council take steps to halt the wholly unjustified ‘vandalism’ of this building? Answer that one HBC.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Tuesday, Dec 20, 2016 @ 09:47

  2. mary hooper

    The planning Department in Hastings is woefully unable to deal with the applications currently made to them. No aesthetic capability and too keen to allow developers to build rabbit hutches that do not seem to take into account sustainability, quality of life, or infra structure – increase in traffic, school provision, job availability and affordability. The plethora of developments on the Ridge are a case in point, The Archery Ground, The Observer Building, and the Convent Grounds and buildings in St. Leonards, the shopping centre at Priory Meadow, Pelham Crescent environs, the Town Centre, to mention a few. Historically this has always been the case since the the turn of the century. Build new but do it well with architecture that will showcase the best of the designers that are available and will stand the test of time.

    Comment by mary hooper — Monday, Dec 19, 2016 @ 20:34

  3. Ms. doubtfire

    HBC should be ashamed of themselves? This council appears to have no shame whatsoever. But the time will come when their arrogance will be their downfall….hopefully not long to wait for this wonderful day!

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Tuesday, Dec 13, 2016 @ 09:36

  4. Andy Ammo

    The Council persists in losing credibility.

    Their record in defending or improving the built environment in Hastings & St Leonards is beyond pathetic.

    Some years ago the planning department got rid of its public enquiry counter.  Steadily since then there has been move after move to evade scrutiny and accountability.  So scrapping these notification letters would help to reach hard-to-reach groups?  HBC should be ashamed of themselves.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Monday, Dec 12, 2016 @ 13:50

  5. Ms. doubtfire

    Its reached a stage now where we need vigilantes in every Ward to alert residents to planning applications in their area and beyond because some larger applications have an impact on the entire town.
    Maybe it makes no difference whether the ‘common people’ get to have their say or not, but this does not mean to say that we should just walk away and accept whatever this planning department throws at us.
    This latest decision by this Council is another nail in the coffin for democracy and transparency in this town. Shameful and unacceptable.
    Clearly they are running scared since the hugely costly Rocklands fiasco. And so they should be. It ‘aint over yet.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Saturday, Dec 10, 2016 @ 10:21

  6. Stewart Rayment

    socialism in one borough – they probably thought they got too much stick over the ecclesbourne glen fiasco.

    Comment by Stewart Rayment — Thursday, Dec 8, 2016 @ 21:37

  7. ken davis

    I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with these objections to what the Council are doing. In fact the whole idea of asking members of the public to comment on planning applications is a complete absurdity, I mean, just like Councillors and planning officers, what on earth makes any member of the public think they are qualified to offer advice on how to design buildings? The problem is you see that the consultation process has only ever been a token offering to the public that their objections might carry any weight in the process. That fact has been proven time and again by public comments being totally ignored but they are bound, by where they come in the process, to be of little relevance. Given that a developer has spent a lot of money to get a scheme to planning stage combined with the primary directive of the planning system being to get buildings erected why ever would anyone objecting think their comments counted for anything.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Dec 8, 2016 @ 16:57

  8. Spiny Norman

    A video recording of the Cabinet meeting can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/194646765

    The item about scrapping planning notification letters starts at 17:19

    Comment by Spiny Norman — Thursday, Dec 8, 2016 @ 16:06

  9. Cllr Michael Edwards

    It’s typical of this out of touch Council to make savings at the sharp end while wasting money outside of the public gaze. We Conservatives have been attempting to persuade the Council to adopt the excellent communication method provided by Rother District Council. They send out to every registered household a weekly email which provides information on many useful matters, for example the refuse collection cycle – which bin will be collected next week, any nearby planning applications, budget and council tax matters, forthcoming events and upcoming council meetings. It is simple, straight ford and cheap but the Labour controlled Council refuses to contemplate it because “there is no call for it”.

    Comment by Cllr Michael Edwards — Thursday, Dec 8, 2016 @ 15:23

  10. DAR

    What an outrageously undemocratic decision! And Labour shoots itself in the foot again. It’s nothing less than a way of circumventing the torrent of criticism of our planners – and uncomfortable objections from residents.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Dec 8, 2016 @ 12:04

  11. Ms. doubtfire

    A very sad day for the pledge of democracy and transparency in this town: not so long ago there was a promise that community participation would be an important part of the planning processes especially when large controversial planning applications were up for discussion.
    This is a shameful and retrograde step and one has to wonder why this council would support this? It can only convince residents that this council does not wish residents to have advance warning of what is planned for their town. There is a small window of opportunity to support or object to planning applications and this new ‘system’ will seriously compromise this timescale.

    The money saved is a drop in the ocean compared to the legal costs this council has incurred in various planning fiascos….I understand the Rocklands caravan park debacle has cost in the region of £91k in legal costs, consultants and the like. This is public money paid for by our council tax payments.

    Something doesn’t seem quite right here somehow – why would any council wish to make planning applications difficult to locate. There are many residents who will be unable to easily source this information. They will be disenfranchised and this cannot be allowed to happen.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Wednesday, Dec 7, 2016 @ 19:35

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