Is the council listening to us?

Is Derbyshire Dales District Council listening to the community it is paid to serve? There is a perception among some residents here in Tansley that, at least as far as housing development plans go, consultation is a cosmetic exercise, often coming too late in the planning process to have any influence on decisions.

Yes, as members of the public, we are invited to have our say. Do you remember the Community Conversations, those carefully managed exercises which did not even have space on their agendas for questions from the public? The idea was that we would talk among ourselves but, heaven forbid, not with anyone from DDDC planning department!

The letter from Cllr Steve Flitter (“We have right to know facts” Matlock Mercury, May 3) and the newspaper’s coverage the previous week of Cllr David Jones’ demands for more meaningful public consultation and more transparency about local development schemes hit the nail on the head.

I wonder why more councillors aren’t standing up for their constituents, especially given their duties as stated in the new Localism Act. At a DDDC meeting on April 26, two district councillors representing Tansley voted in favour of developing our green fields, without even knowing where exactly the greenfield development sites would be located.

The Localism Act states: “People need to be able to elect their councillors confident they will act on issues they care about and have campaigned on.”

District councillors representing Tansley certainly can’t claim they don’t know what we want. A survey carried out by Tansley Parish Council in March this year could not have made it clearer: there is support for small-scale housing development within the existing settlement framework, but most residents oppose any extension of the settlement boundary and they do not want any building on greenfield sites. Tansley people are not NIMBYS – they are not opposed to development on a reasonable scale at a reasonable pace in reasonable locations - but they wish to retain the village character of Tansley.

We all understand that DDDC has to build houses to satisfy national planning policy, but we would hope that the choice of building sites would be driven by more than the fact that a developer in a particular location is ready to sell land. Tansley is the only village earmarked for development in the Central Planning Area of Derbyshire Dales. The other locations are towns. We have already had one recent spate of house-building here, in the form of the West Yard development, and yet we are being told we must extend our village boundary further and accept more. Why?

Land availability appears to be the only criterion as far as Tansley is concerned. The village lacks infrastructure –we have no shop, no doctor’s surgery, no pharmacy, limited employment opportunities and a bus service which runs only every two hours and not at all in the evenings or on Sundays. We have heard nothing from DDDC about how it might help improve our infrastructure.

People from Tansley attended not only the recent DDDC meeting where a vote in favour of development on Tansley’s green fields was carried, but also an earlier meeting in Bakewell last December, where they were able to voice their concerns about current plans.

These concerns were not recorded. DDDC said this was because the meeting had officially closed when we spoke. As the agenda had allocated no time for public speaking, we were in a no-win situation.

Nor did the minutes of the Bakewell meeting record any of the interesting discussion around the table by committee members about housing development strategy and public consultation. When challenged on this, DDDC said its policy is to record only the decisions taken.

In the interests of transparency, maybe DDDC should give some thought to improving its minute-taking. Routinely summarising the main points of discussion and any input from members of the public present would be a good start.

Now that High Peak Borough Council has withdrawn from its joint development strategy with DDDC, there will be further consultations with the public about the new Derbyshire Dales Local Plan. This needs to be prepared in accordance with the recently published National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF states that “Local Plans are the key to delivering sustainable development that reflect the vision and aspirations of local communities.” The plan for our area will be subject to a six-week period of public consultation commencing in June 2012. Let’s see what happens.

Jane Flanagan