I've just returned from the Basildon council scrutiny meeting so here is a quick summary. The committee agreed that the Draft Local Plan had been properly scrutinised and can go forward to the cabinet/council on Thursday who will decide whether to put it out to public consultation. On the other hand, it was thought that the CLI Charging Schedule has not yet been properly scrutinised so they recommended to the cabinet that this part be held back for consultation later. The cabinet/council may choose to ignore that advice because of extra costs or time constraints.
Prior to the meeting I raised a concern with the chairman of the scrutiny committee (Cllr Harrison) that the Dunton Garden Suburb consultation and the Statement of Community Involvement have not been completed. Cllr Harrison kindly allowed me to raise these points at the meeting. I was told by the planning officer Matthew Winslow that they are trying to get agreement from Brentwood Council to publish the comments on the DGS consultation in time. We already have a quick summary of the public comments but there will be detailed comments from important bodies such as neighbouring councils, the Highways Authority, Network Rail, NHS etc, and we should really know what they are before the consultation process continues.
Ideally, we should also have the full council responses to those questions. I don't think there is anything very sinister in the fact that we don't have them. The councils have just not had resources to prepare them in the given time and have prioritised preparation of the draft local plans first. Nevertheless, Dunton Garden Suburb is an option in one of the Basildon Draft Local Plan policies (option 3 of H10) and I don't accept that people can make further well-informed comments on that without the DGS consultation being completed.
In the recent Statement of Community Involvement consultation there was a large section about how they should conduct consultations for the Local Plan. I told the scrutiny committee that I thought it was wrong that they are now about to go forward with the largest consultation for the Local Plan without completing that. Their answer was that the existing CLI is good enough! When we responded to the SCI a few months ago I am sure most people must have assumed, as I did, that the questions relating to consultation procedures for the Local Plan were going to apply to the Local Plan being consulted on now, not the next one which may be prepared in ten years time. Apparently we were wrong.
I certainly don't want the Local Plan consultation to be delayed further, but I think that if they do not take public sentiments into account in the final Local Plan, then this lack of consideration of public comments will be something we have to bring up with the Planning Inspectorate when the plan goes forward for examination in 2017. Let's hope they can do a little better with the consultations to come so that it isn't necessary.