Beware of “local consultation” – poor evidence is used to support planning decisions

Many of the families in Four Marks and Medstead are not aware that EHDC carried out a “public consultation” in May this year as part of the preparation of the local housing plan. A consistent process has been followed across East Hampshire of holding public meetings where individuals were asked to vote for the single site (from the local sites available for development) where they thought housing should be allowed. Since this “public consultation” and the publication of a Local Interim Planning Statement (LIPS) the following text has appeared in EHDC officers’ reports on Four Marks and Medstead planning applications going to the Planning Committee:

It is acknowledged, however, that the consultation event resulted in a strong preference for a site in Winchester Road (Editor’s Note: the Barn Lane Site ) and also for a site that has recently been granted planning permission (Friars Oak Farm)………. The LIPS document is a useful indicator of public preferences for development sites and infrastructure needs. However, it does not form part of the statutory development plan and as such no more than modest weight can be attributed to it in the determination of any planning application.

However the Planning Committee undoubtedly takes account of the LIPS as a representative expression of public views. But when you look closely at the process of consultation IT IS DEEPLY FLAWED.

As evidence it is extremely weak in our opinion as:

  • The consultation events were poorly publicised so the vast majority of residents did not know about the event or realise its implications.
  • The timing of the meetings meant that the attendees wouldn’t be representative of the general population.
  • Only 6% of the population attended the consultation events.
  • The framing of the question “we have to find sites for 100+ houses – please vote for the single site you prefer” means people will rationally vote for the largest sites – so no surprise that Barn Lane and Friar’s Oak were the most popular!
  • The organisation of the events was poor as anybody, whether living in the area or not, could vote and we’ve heard evidence of people voting multiple times.
  • The voting was public, not secret, so there was the potential for pressure to be applied at the meeting to influence voting.

If such weak data, and a flawed process, can be used to support planning decisions then other villages need to beware of “the local consultation”!

UPDATE: 6th September 2014:

We are not alone in our criticism of the LIPS public consultation process:

  • letter to Alton Herald
  • letter from  Vail Williams LLP re: LIPS and planning application in Lovedean