The second Local Plan meeting of the Task and Finish (T+F) Group appeared a tad shambolic.
With an experienced chairman backed by senior policy officers to set the agenda it was surprising that they had allowed councillor members to apparently be unaware of the meeting’s format.
Members attempted to assert some ground rules regarding where Castle Point is with the critical initial 5 year housing supply, the objectively assessed housing need and the Borough’s constraints. They felt that this information would assist them during the meeting.
Members were then treated to a power point presentation of maps etc indicating various constraints to development in the Borough.
Of concern was the fact that some of the documents these constraint maps were selected from were either incorrect or out of date!
Most noticeably the Surface Water Management Plan document map that suggested one area on Canvey Island where a dyke had been filled in as not being a potential flooding area, and the Landscape Character map with the Dutch Village site, apparently, excluded as an Environmentally Sensitive Area, disagreeing with Natural England.
Almost reluctantly the meeting progressed onto the purpose of the meeting which was to discuss the responses to the new draft Local Plan consultation.
A further seemingly contentious point was raised when the senior officer informed members that late consultation responses had been accepted and had, or would be sent to members for their consideration.
The implication was that there had been no set means or need to forward these submissions as some members appeared to have not so far received the relevant material.
As residents we are puzzled why these submissions have and are being accepted in private (or secret) as the consultation closed in March this year.
One can only assume the late submissions are from developers, with their own site specific interests.
The meeting eventually went onto consider the individual submissions from agencies and whether the officers’ formal responses were appropriate.
Often the officers response would use the term “noted.”
In the Council Chamber the word “noted” has a very specific meaning. Cabinet use the term to indicate when they “accept” documents.
These officer responses could well come back to bite Castle Point residents.
A vote was taken after each response to indicate whether the Task and Finish group accept or decline the officers response.
The officers and chairman did not request alternative wording from the T+F group members.
It remains to be seen whether, and who by, the consultation responses are re-worded and whether the T+F group are asked whether they accept the altered wording.
This will be of the utmost importance as a Planning Inspector will assume that residents and outside agencies’ queries and objections have been overcome and resolved, thereby accepting the Local Plan in something like its current format.
Generally the members appeared uncomfortable in how, and where, they were being led by the chairman and officers.
Worryingly the thought did occur that both chairman and officers had a different agenda to that of the committee.
We have yet to see where the promised change in approach will come from.
More of the same (Core Strategy) springs to mind, at least this time around it is not just Canvey that is under the spotlight.
A further meeting is arranged for the 30th September.
Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters