Labour Councillors have called on Westminster Conservatives to urgently deliver much needed change to open up the Planning system so that residents can have more confidence in the transparency of major planning decisions that affect local communities.
Residents are particularly keen to see changes that would allow them to speak at Planning Committee meetings, which has long been a Labour demand and was promised for the first time in the Conservative election manifesto this year. This is a right that residents in every other London borough have enjoyed for many years. Labour are pushing the Council to take swift action to give residents a voice at these meetings and to ensure that the new processes learn from the best practice of other boroughs to maximise the time given to the views of local people.
Labour’s call for action comes after the Council’s website has suddenly stopped displaying residents’ comments on planning applications, with the Council blaming the new GDPR rules for the shutdown on displaying comments posted on line. While the Council claims the measure is temporary while they update their processes it means that many planning applications are proceeding without proper public debate. Labour say that the Council’s action is a massive step backwards for local residents and that the Council has had over a year to bring in a new website format to deal with the GDPR rules so should have foreseen and avoided this situation. The Council must urgently resolve this issue so that resident comments on schemes are made public again.
Residents are angry at the Council’s action and say:
“One cannot see if comments have actually been posted – and then no one can see what the status of any comments are or what people are agreeing or not agreeing to. The data regulations act is about personal data being shared. you can easily not show any personal data”
“It is worth pointing out that the Council would have been aware for many months of the date of introduction of these regulations and perhaps it would have been prudent of them to have made better provision for the protection of transparency. Residents are surely entitled to know what the strength of local opinion is. “
Labour say that to win back the confidence of the public on Planning matters the Council must:
– Allow residents to speak at Planning Committee meetings immediately.
– Achieve the highest standards of propriety on planning matters by making it absolutely clear that Councillors must not accept hospitality from individual developers and their agents.
– Record and clearly publicise all meetings between cabinet members and planning committee members with developers when discussing individual schemes.
– Always ensure there is an officer present to make a record of the meeting and the issues discussed. The record of the meeting should be posted on the Council website within two weeks.
– Provide more information explaining how the planning system works, including jargon busting to help residents, and the documents that explain what is being proposed for their area.
– Continue to produce residents’ planning notification letters.
– Establish a design panel for Westminster to allow professional architects, other experts and lay residents to give external advice to planning committees on design aspects of major planning proposals.