Cllr Bowles reply
05 Jan 2011I am bewildered with the views expressed by Mrs Kay Murphy’s suggesting that Swale Borough Council does not listen to objectors in relation to planning matters. The Council is exemplary in ensuring all views and representations are made available and taken into account when making planning decisions. The Council has to be responsive to public concerns, as not doing so would threaten the ability of any Councillor to retain the confidence of their constituents.
The Council has a very difficult job in weighing up the arguments for and against controversial development proposals. The merits of each case must be taken into account. A major part of this is the legal requirement to observe national planning policy guidance as well as the Swale Local Plan. There is also often very significant evidence supporting a proposal; as well as all the representations received from local people.
The Council must ensure that it has reached planning decisions by taking clear account of all these matters. This is essential to ensure that it has a robust response should there be any legal challenges to any of its decisions. These can come from the Government Inspectorate at appeals against refusal of planning permission, or through judicial reviews of its decisions.
The principle of housing development at Stones Farm was established over two years ago through the Swale Borough Local Plan and the recent development brief consultation was confined to more detailed design and layout matters. Representations from the public have been taken into account in making the final amendments to this document.
Mrs Murphy raised broader issues around consultation on planning issues. During the course of the recent Stones Farm consultation, I am aware of some responses to her explaining the planning background on the various issues she raised during the consultation process. I am also aware that the Head of Planning Services had offered to meet with her to explain the issues face to face. While she did not accept this invitation during the consultation period, I understand that such a meeting is shortly to take place.
More can be done to engage the local community in planning matters and I am pleased to see that the new Government is coming forward with new proposals which should engender greater community participation and engagement. Mrs Murphy’s suggestion about a residents’ forum is an interesting idea and as the Government’s proposals come forward there will be a need to make this happen and support local communities.
I am sure that Mrs Murphy will be aware of the strong local voice of her local Parish Council at Bapchild. I have personally been involved in correspondence and discussion with Bapchild Parish Council on this matter and feel that Mrs Murphy is somewhat mistaken in assuming there is no community voice or expert assistance available. The Parish Council has, moreover, been drawing on the expert planning advice available from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (Protect Kent) in its responses on the Stones Farm issue.
Mrs Murphy should also be aware that the Council holds regular Local Engagement Forums covering the Borough that she and other residents may wish to attend. She can personally ask for items to be put on the agenda and discussed on the night. These give an opportunity for local voices to be heard and for any issues to be taken to the appropriate Authority or agency to respond.
Cllr Andrew Bowles
Leader Swale Borough Council
Published in East Kent Gazette