It was another very, very bad night for local democratic rights in the Horsham District Council Chamber last Wednesday.
Councillors voted through constitutional changes that mean residents and parish councils will now be blocked from calling-in contentious planning applications which HDC have pre-categorised as ‘minor’, regardless of the number of ‘objections’ from the community.
Public speakers, the Horsham Society and some principled councillors all spoke up valiantly for retention of these long-standing rights.
Unfortunately, yet again the overwhelming ‘block vote’ of the ruling party quashed any meaningful debate.
Residents had thoroughly researched these proposals ‘proving’ that retention of the rights would have negligible impact on Planning Committee workload being just one quarter of one per cent of volume.
Also, they established beyond doubt that (with one minor exception) the proposed changes could not be justified as ‘restoring’ the old (pre-December 2016) constitution rules, despite the obvious attempt by HDC to confuse this aspect.
Although all these findings were submitted to the HDC Planning Director and Monitoring Officer, these were not answered, nor even countered, simply ignored as usual with political gesture and innuendo carrying much more weight than fact and rational argument.
It appeared that the flawed proposals had been ‘cooked up’ in a closed Advisory Group and then, as usual, ‘forced’ through to council where decision making is often a complete sham as the outcome of any so-called debate is usually pre-destined by overwhelming ‘party-line’ votes.
The ethos of the meeting was perfectly encapsulated when the Deputy Leader of the council publicly admonished a councillor (his own deputy!) for having the temerity to second a motion which would have retained one of the rights.
Why isn’t this councillor allowed to put his honest views and beliefs before the need to ‘toe the party-line’? No wonder the HDC leadership won’t sign up to the WSCT Free Speech Charter!
Also, parish councils haven’t been consulted and most don’t meet until late September after the summer break. However, at least one parish did formally lodge an objection, but this was not even mentioned at the meeting. Why not, and why is there no consultation with parishes?
But, don’t just take my word for it, listen to the debate yourself at horsham.gov.uk and I’m sure you will be unimpressed by the whole fiasco.
Another example of how democracy fails when political party loyalty reigns supreme in a one-sided council chamber. Local democracy at its worst!
Cox Green, Rudgwick