Have a read of Localism Act

Jane Flanagan’s letter in (Matlock Mercury) on the DDDC development plan raised two important issues. The first is the one of proper recording of meetings held by the district council. Anyone reading any of DDDC’s published minutes will find little information of any debate or discussion; the minutes tend to be merely a list of resolutions carried. Since there seems to be no reporting of consultative meetings either, how can the outcome of consultations be fed into the system, or reported to councillors who have to make informed decisions?

A cynic might be tempted to think that this was deliberate policy to avoid having to take too much notice of the views of the general public.

The second is the way the council responds to the Localism Act of 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework. There is an underlying message in this act that instructs planners and local authorities to take more notice of local opinion. Note, not just consult, but take notice. It also requires that, I quote, “Local plans should set out the opportunities for development, and clear policies on what will, or will not be permitted – and where.” Note the use of the word ‘where’. The clear implication running throughout the act is that, in the past, planners and councils have not taken enough account of local views. The new act requires that they make no decision without knowing what will be affected, and without talking to the residents affected.

There is more. Under Myth-Busters, the National Planning Policy Framework states: “Communities will have the power to decide the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected, through their local plan. Legislation will abolish the old top down regional strategies and top down housing targets.” Advising on the protection of green spaces or countryside, it states “....local people and their councils decide for themselves where to locate development...”

I will not repeat the details in Jane’s letter referring to the Council Meeting of April 26, but simply remind readers that no information on sites affected in Tansley (or indeed elsewhere) was made available to councillors when they approved the development plan. So councillors were prevented from fulfilling their obligations under the Act. I have asked Barry Tipping, one of Tansley’s district councillors who supported the plan, if he would explain why he took the view that he did without knowing the effect the decision would have on the locality. I received the following reply, “I voted for the proposal as I felt that up to 2028, 30 houses was not a large figure for a village of Tansley to accommodate. I feel it would not be good for no development in the village”.

Of course, if the planning officers had reported on the Tansley public meeting to the council he would have known that Tansley residents had already accepted the principle of future development in the village, and he could have tabled a suitable amendment. Residents just want a say in how much development they have and where, and they don’t want to extend the settlement boundary.

Cllr Tipping went on to point out that there is “a lot of consultation to be done before the plan is finalised”.

The problem with this is that most of members of the public regard the DDDC version of consultation as a sham.

The most public recent example of that is in the naming of Matlock’s leisure centre. This particular exercise took the unusual step of actually recording local opinion, so was shown to be a sham. Where records are not kept of consultation exercises, it is much easier to ignore the results.

Our district planners and councillors need to read the Localism Act and its supporting documentation, and need to consult local residents properly, and within the requirements of that act, before they make irrevocable decisions.

Our district council also needs to institute an effective way of recording and reporting the discussions of both council meetings and consultation meetings so that local voters can hold their councillors to account.

Ian Milne