At the council meeting on Monday 24 February, I posed the following question:
What legitimate reason does Bromley Council's Planning department have for denying residents (particularly those with disabilities and no internet access) their democratic right to speak in objection to planning applications, by not advising objectors of the committee date, when a simple emailmerge/texting system would not have significant 'resource implications'? (49 words - just within the 50 word limit!)
The response from Cllr Peter Dean, Chairman of the Development Control Committee, refuted that the Council is denying democracy for those with disabilities and/or no internet access, on the basis that, if they contact the Council, officers will do their best to assist them. Fine words but not very useful for those concerned, unless the planning department is, after all, prepared to advise them when an application to which they have objected goes to a committee for consideration. This was not made clear. The suggestions were that people call or email - every week?? (See official response)
A supplementary question: "Where are meeting agendas publicised for easy public access, other than on the web i.e. in hard copy?" received the rather vague answer of "I believe copies are in libraries".
It is a great pity that officers seem unable to suggest that, since they must keep a record of all objections received, the details can easily be used to produce emailmerges or textmerges which can be sent to all objectors in a matter of less than 5 minutes -
Margot Rohan, Orpington Community
Guess what! Last week, the planning department emailed me to advise that an application on which I had submitted an objection is to be considered at Plans Sub 2 on 20 February. However, the Council website still states that 'due to resource implications the Council does not notify applicants, agents, neighbours or any other parties of expected decision dates for applications.' I sincerely hope I have not received special attention because of the question I will be raising at the next Council meeting on 24 February, as that would be extremely undemocratic.
Have you ever objected to a planning application in your area? How easy (or, more likely, difficult) did you find it to navigate the website and find the information you needed about the application?
It is a well known fact that navigating Council websites is a nightmare. The terminology still used on most of them, such as 'Council & Democracy' and 'Community & Living', is confusing and it is not immediately apparent what they mean. Who would assume that information about meetings is to be found under 'Council & Democracy'? Once there, it becomes clearer but, if one searches by entering 'meetings', a spurious list of links appears, rather than one to the calendar, or a list of committees.
However, what is of more concern is the fact that Bromley Council do not advise objectors when an application is going to committee. The onus is on objectors to keep checking the website, or visiting or telephoning the Planning department at the Civic Centre to enquire. So, it appears that the Council is not bothered about those who have disabilities and who do not have access to the internet but wish to put their case in person when their neighbours erect, for instance, overlooking extensions cutting off their light. How democratic is that? The planning application website is not intuitive and quite difficult to understand for those not familiar with planning procedures. If an objector, wishing to speak in objection to a planning application which goes to committee, happens not to look in the right place or misses the date of the committee meeting until after the deadline for registering to speak, they are denied their opportunity to put their case to the committee and to point out discrepancies or inaccuracies in the officer's report, which do occur.
On the Council's website, the excuse given is: 'due to resource implications the Council does not notify applicants, agents, neighbours or any other parties of expected decision dates for applications.' However, an emailmerge/texting system would have insignificant cost implications and would notify objectors at the press of a button, in a few minutes. Other councils (notably neighbouring Croydon, Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham) notify all objectors (even when there are several hundred). Bromley's process of putting the onus on objectors to keep a check on the progress of applications is undemocratic, in excluding sections of the community which do not have easy access to planning information, compared to those with internet connection.
The following question has been sent to Bromley Council for the next Council meeting on 24 February, so it will be interesting to see what response is submitted to mitigate their retreat from democracy:
What legitimate reason does Bromley Council's Planning department have for denying residents (particularly those with disabilities and no internet access) their democratic right to speak in objection to planning applications, by not advising objectors of the committee date, when a simple emailmerge/texting system would not have significant 'resource implications'?
Councillor Peter Dean, Chair of the Development Control Committee, will be responding at the meeting.
Margot Rohan, 'Orpington Community'