Twenty four months after Bexley Natural Environment Forum first raised the matter, Bexley Council’s ‘view planning applications online’ webpages continue to wrongly state that the group has made no comments on proposals to damage Sites of Importance to Nature Conservation and other open spaces, despite being listed as a body that the Council has formally consulted on these matters. In one of its several complaints about this, the Forum has said ‘You will appreciate that we do not want our credibility damaged on account of the Council erroneously stating that we have not commented on an application of this nature, particularly given that we are listed as an official consultee. Indeed we have also said that we are happy for our comments to be put in the public domain on your site.’
As long ago as 20th September 2014 the Forum had written to the head of planning, Mrs. Susan Clark, complaining that there had recently been four cases where it was wrongly stated on the planning pages that ‘No comments have been made on this case’ by the group, and she replied on the 22nd saying that she’d asked the IT team to sort it out.
Still no fix two years on
Two years and further reminders later (such as July 3rd and August 13th 2016 – the latter copied to Cllr. Linda Bailey, head of regeneration, but with no reply to either message from anyone) and the matter is still not resolved. Moreover we are way past the Council’s target date for replying to e-mail correspondence since we last raised the issue.
Other groups also affected
For the planning application relating to the Borax fields next to Crossness LNR (heard 7th July) , both BNEF and Bexley Civic Society are listed twice each as having made no comments, even though both did, and then a third time where readers are referred to the ‘Documents tab at top of page for details’. This only leads to documents submitted by the applicant. London Wildlife Trust, which the applicant admitted had recommended the fields for SINC status, was not officially consulted, despite having been hired by Bexley to review the borough’s SINCs, and although it made representations, is not listed on the planning pages as having done so.
The Crayford Marshes railfreight depot application pages state (evening of September 25th) that ‘Comments may not be submitted at this time’ even though a date has yet to be set for the matter to go to planning committee, and in practice the Council will accept comments up to that date. BNEF is yet again listed as having made no comments, even though it submitted proposed conditions well in advance in order to try and secure the best fall-back position in the event of approval, by seeking to influence them before they were effectively fixed between the Council and ‘developer’, as well as later submitting a substantive objection. It is then listed again, where users are referred to the documents tab. London Wildlife Trust is first listed as having made no comments, despite making a very detailed criticism and objection which is then – rather strangely – heavily summarised in a second mention in the list of consultees itself. Both Natural England and the Traffic and Transport Focus Group are listed twice, but in each case the documents tab is referenced. Once again, however, of the 107 documents actually available when that tab is clicked, all are from the ‘developer’.
In whose service?
In the Crayford Marshes case, one of the ‘developer’s’ documents is a response to consultee comments. The planning process is already heavily enough bent in favour of the concrete and tarmac brigade, without ‘developers’ being able to attack opponents in documents made available to the public by the Council, whilst the objector’s own original comments are either heavily edited or not made available in this forum at all.
Indeed if you want to find out from the Council what objectors have said, you need to look at the planning committee agenda papers. However, these are only published one week in advance of the meeting, and the comments are summarised by a Council Officer which gives a very poor understanding of what are often necessarily long and detailed submissions. It would help the public if this source of some information, at least, was pointed out on the view planning applications pages for each application.
All in all, a most unsatisfactory situation that ought to be fairly easy to fix and improve.
Ray Gray and Chris Rose. Chair and Vice-chair, Bexley Natural Environment Forum.