Statement of Community Involvement is an interesting term. It appears to be given importance in Planning and Local Government processes. However it leaves open, opportunity in the hands of Public Relations consultants to apply the correct amount of spin to reveal the required opinions necessary to comply with requirements.
Castle Point Council original attempt at a Core Strategy required a Statement of Community Involvement. Due to residents’ apathy or the implications of what the Core Strategy contained only a low response was forthcoming. The questionnaire consisted of a tick box reply on resident’s opinion on green belt, development and other issues, culminating in the opportunity for the compilers to give verdict on the Core Strategy as a whole. For one topic there was a 14% objection, resulting in the summary that as 86% of residents failed to respond this proves they must overwhelmingly agree with the proposal!
Political Developments Limited will be required to put a positive spin on the public involvement in the Persimmon proposals for the Dutch Village Fields. This should be interesting reading given the miserly attendance at the design exhibitions. And given that the vast majority of attendees were against any development.
However developers are never ones to let resident’s opinions stand in the way of their progress. They have been asked to prove the need for development, and prove the need they will, on paper!
The New Local Plan will also require a Statement of Community Involvement. This process involves a similar questionnaire requiring residents to rate topics by degrees of “importance”. What any neutral must grasp, when reading the results, is that the Borough is physically split between Mainland and Island. The question asking to rate the importance level of “Flood Risk Maintenance” is obviously of major importance to the Island residents. It is clear to see that some of the Mainland residents taking part attach the understandable “very important” rating to “Highway and Transport” as well as “Open Spaces and Playgrounds”, whilst “Flood Risk Management” is worthy of only “Not Important”. Implying that green fields and roads are of more importance than residents’ safety. The population split of 43% living on Canvey will also skew the results, as 57% of participants are likely to be Mainland residents. The scenario could arise that only 40% of Island residents record a “very important” view on “Flood Risk Management” due to having full confidence in Flood Defences and the EA. Taking likely Mainland views into account, this may well lead to an overall result that just 17% of Borough residents regard “Flood Risk Management” is “very important” therefore 83% regard Flood Risk as only important or of little importance! The question is, why Castle Point Borough Council feel the need to ask how important residents rate their own safety and well being.
The Inspector, examining the New Local Plan, is likely to look for the tick box that indicates that the Statement of Community Involvement has been complied with, and be satisfied that a leaflet has been sent to all residents and that they have all had the opportunity to respond. He will then “assume” that the Local Authority have made use and compiled the New Local Plan on the basis of resident’s views along with Planning Regulations.