On 17 November TDC’s UKIP controlled Cabinet approved proposals to have a Local Plan public consultation of just six weeks. Now I don’t know about you, but reading, understanding and making comments on a complex, technical and extremely long document in just six weeks, whilst bringing up a family and all that goes with that, is a bit of a tall order for me and I guess tens of thousands other people in Thanet as well. Almost every other council in Kent recognises that their residents have busy lives and have allowed more time than Thanet for public consultation on their Local Plans. Canterbury allowed 10 weeks, Dover and Ashford 8 weeks and Kent County Council also allowed 8 weeks for public consultation on its Minerals and Waste and Local Plan. But here in Thanet it’s just six weeks.
Failing to take account of the needs of local people when conducting one of the most important public consultations in Thanet’s history is, in my opinion, a shameful and undemocratic abuse to power by UKIP and a massive slap in the face to Thanet’s residents. But it’s not just the UKIP Cabinet who seem to think riding roughshod over residents’ rights to be fairly and properly consulted by the council is OK. Take TDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel (OSP) which is made up of Tory, Labour and backbench UKIP councillors who are supposed to hold the Cabinet to account and double check its decisions. Well they met on 21 November to consider the Local Plan and the Cabinet’s proposed consultation time-frame. Several of the OSP councillors were rightly angry about having received the massive document just one week before their meeting took place and complained that this was insufficient time for them to have read and understood the document properly and to have developed any useful ideas and suggestion to put forward. But not a single one of them Labour, UKIP or Tory made any comment about how unfair and undemocratic it was to expect busy local residents to read and comment on this 1,037 page missive in six-short week. Once again the spineless windbags who pass themselves off as councillors hypocritically demonstrated that their personal convenience to have their documents delivered early was much more important than the convenience of the people they are supposed to represent who will be afforded a totally unreasonable consultation period of just six weeks.Sadly it’s not legally binding, but in July this year the Government’s Cabinet Office published advice about public consultation which sets out best practice for public authorities when conducting major public consultation. The advice suggests that consultations timescales be proportionate to “nature and the impact of the proposal” under consideration. Well allowing for the size , technical detail and complexity of the local plan document and the major impact it will have upon Thanet’s current and future residents for years to come, I would strongly argue that a 12 week consultation period would be fair and proportionate. Anything less will make it very difficult for individuals and organisation to make worthwhile, well-thought out comments. By not allocating sufficient time to consultation we are likely to end up with a weak and insufficient Local Plan which doesn’t command public support.
The Local Plan will be discussed again by TDCs Cabinet on 8 December when final arrangements will be approved for the public consultation in January 2017. Lets hope that the UKIP Cabinet will change its mind and allow fairness and democracy to prevail and agree to having a 12 week consultation on the local plan. After all it was the 2015 UKIP Election Manifesto which promised that the party would “give local people more control over planning”. What better way of walking the talk than by allowing a 12 week consultation period on the Local Plan.