CPRE Sussex is calling on Horsham District Council to improve and clarify its controversial consultation ‘How Much Housing Does Horsham Need?’
Speaking on behalf of the Crawley and Horsham Branch this week, Roger Smith branded it ‘inadequate and not fit for its purpose’.
The first criticism was that HDC ‘appears determined’ people should respond to the consultation via the council’s website, with the proviso that ‘Comments sent in by email or letter will be summarised’.
Dr Smith said: “People who are unable to access HDC’s consultation website have expressed concern that their views might be misrepresented or not taken into account should they respond by email or letter.”
Concerned that those who do not participate online should not be discriminated against, CPRE is asking HDC to ‘not summarise’ submitted letters and emails.
Dr Smith believes residents’ responses should be included in the consultation in the form and manner they are written.
The local campaign group also takes issue with the online consultation system, specifically where key questions are asked, but there is ‘no apparent facility for people either to give their answers or to comment on the questions’.
At Section 5.28 questions include ‘Do you agree that the 4 options set out in this consultation document are appropriate options to consider for meeting future employment and housing growth within the District?’ and ‘Looking at the different levels of jobs and homes created with each of the options A to D set out in this consultation document, which option do you feel is most appropriate for the District?’
In relation to there existing no means for consultees to address these important questions, CPRE states ‘this must be rectified immediately’.
The campaign group also wants a facility to be made available online for respondents to submit and upload evidence in support of their statements, especially since the consultation asks those who do not agree with the ‘Options’ to provide evidence to support their views.
Other areas of concern include a disparity between what is requested in HDC’s consultation leaflet and on HDC’s consultation website, as well as confusion over being asked to comment on Strategic Site Options in addition to Housing Options, when the former is dependent upon the result of the latter.
In both instances CPRE is calling for further clarification from the council.
Dr Smith said: “The few comments posted on the consultation website to date clearly show that people are confused on how and where to comment with the danger that their comments will not be taken into account under the relevant sections.”
Despite the inadequacies raised with the consultation system however, Dr Smith and CPRE are urging anyone with an interest in the future of the Horsham district to participate at www.horsham.gov.uk.
The County Times put CPRE’s concerns to HDC. In a statement the council said: “All comments are available to view in full by anyone wishing to, including council members. These are held at the council offices and available to view on request. Anything received electronically is transferred onto the online system.
“All comments are summarised when reported to members but, as said before, all comments are available in full for anyone to view. This has always been the case with consultations, we encourage people to comment where they can online, as this is the fastest and easiest way their comments are made available to view.”
In respect of the questions posed by the consultation system at point 5.28, the council claimed that there is an answer facility but that ‘owing to a technical problem it was not up and running properly but this has now been rectified’.
They also added: “When we consult on a document we always give people to opportunity to comment on the document, not just the questions/options we are asking them.
“We have already received comments linking with other sections of the documents which have been attached to these sections and will also be reported to Council Members. This informs the future production of the document.”
The council disagreed that the comments received so far from the public showed people are confused as CPRE claimed. They said: “The comments received have been clear and attached to the varied sections of the document which they have wished to comment on. We have received very few queries as to how to make comments and all queries have been answered directly.”
The council also wanted to make clear that every effort has been made to ensure people have the opportunity to participate in this important consultation.
They said: “We have been actively spreading the word out about the consultation, distributing the leaflets across the district as well as in the Horsham District News magazine, also by placing adverts in the press, copies of the document and leaflets to Parish and Neighbourhood Councils, libraries, Help Points, as well as leaflets to leisure centres across the District.”