We can’t make our voice heard

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11 Jan 2009

It's certainly not an uncommonly held view point that public opinion is swiftly dispatched off to the darkest corners of the Local Authority where it lurks forever more in solitude. Most residents are so disillusioned that they would rather give up at the first fence than put up any opposition to defend their quality of life.

However, I have to believe that it is possible to effect change; otherwise there would be little point in continuing in my role. But recent events are starting to take their toll and it is increasingly difficult to persuade residents to participate in consultations when on the face of it, success is all but unattainable.

Just recently the renewal of a planning application came before us, which residents had been fairly vocal about for some time. Having discussed this with residents again the parish council decided to object, as did the neighbouring parish council and a number of residents. Our objection duly listed our concerns and made mention of the applicants track record in breaking the terms of the previous agreement. Unfortunately we were not successful and the application was approved regardless. Just three days later the applicant was caught breaking the terms of their agreement once again.

Now obviously I don’t expect the decision to go our way with every application that we object to or support for that matter. What I do find rather depressing is the lack of sensible debate or for that matter any debate that generally occurs with applications that I have been involved with. Now don’t get me wrong I have been in attendance when discussions lasted so long I found it hard to maintain the will to live. However as soon I’m called to speak, the room goes very quiet indeed. I’m not sure whether I frighten them or bore them to death, but in any event to outcome is always the same.

Then we have the mystery of the missing responses to applications, missing consultation documents and missing invitations to committee hearings. Believe me an awful lot of documents somehow manage to go missing and I’m only speaking about one parish council. It was apparent from a recent committee hearing that we were not alone as other applications were swiftly pulled from the agenda, due to a lack of consultation. It really comes to something when the first you hear about an application is by reading it in the local paper.

In another case which incidentally is still ongoing, the applicant put forward a retrospective application in which they neglected to mention three out of the four structures on the site. Following repeated opportunities given by the local authority the applicant failed wholeheartedly to submit anything worthy of consideration. This was followed by several changes in direction on the applicant’s part and a further enforcement action. However more than two and a half years later nothing has happened and I have absolutely no idea why or what action the local authority is currently undertaking with regard to the application.

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to communicate progress, a brief telephone call or even the odd email would suffice. Returning our messages, informing us when the planning officer changes, let alone updating us on the progress of the application all appear to be beyond the capabilities of our local authority.

Most applications that we deal with are fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but not to those concerned or affected by the outcome. Granted we not going to change the world, but in some small way we can make life more bearable, but only if someone actually starts listening.