London Indymedia

The duty of local councils to consult

Keith Parkins | 01.08.2008 15:39 | Repression | Social Struggles | London

Local councils have a duty to consult. This is not a nicety, or a nod to local democracy or public participation, it is a legal requirement.

Look at most unwanted developments and you will find a lack of consultation. The most that usually happens is a letter or notice to a few households and interested parties. This is not consultation, it is notification. Where 'consultation' does take place, it is usually going through the motions, ticking the appropriate boxes, rarely is it a case of the local authority having an open and receptive mind, taking on board what has been said. Generally minds have been made up long before this stage.

In Farnborough and Aldershot, parking schemes have been imposed or attempts have been made to impose without consultation. As a consequence these schemes are unlawful.

In Salisbury Road, a decision was made to implement a pay and display scheme in a car park that serves a dentist, doctors and pharmacy. A car park that had hitherto been free. The first those effected knew was when they were told by a local councillor. The first the councillor knew was when he saw a notice in the street. The deputy leader of the council could not see the need to inform ward councillors of every decision taken!

'A decision was taken last year to control it by pay and display. If every cabinet decision was made and ward councillors could pop up and say "we don’t like this" then you’d never get any work done.'

In North Camp, pay and display was introduced for street parking that hitherto been free. According to those who attended an open public meeting, there had been totally inadequate public consultation, those who had commented had their comments dismissed out of hand. Traders are suffering loss of business, local residents are suffering loss of amenity through displacement parking. The view of the deputy leader of the council is that the parking scheme is there to stay!

That no consultation took place means the scheme is unlawful. That the lines in the road, the signs are not lawful only adds to the unlawful nature of the scheme.

There are similar problems with street parking in Aldershot.

That it is a legal requirement to consult dates from a ruling by Mr Justice McCullough in the Primrose Hill case. [Regina v Camden London Borough ex parte Mark Dyson Gordan Cran and others (1995]

'The duty to consult may be imposed by statute or may arise because the parties to be consulted have a legitimate expectation of consultation which results either from a promise or from an established practice of consultation ... The process of consultation must be effective; looked at as a whole it must be fair. This requires that consultation must take place while the proposals are still at a formative stage; those consulted must be provided with information which is accurate and sufficient to allow them to make a meaningful response; they must be given adequate time in which to do so; there must be adequate time for their response to be considered; the consulting body must consider their response with a receptive mind and in a conscientious manner when reaching a decision.'

As a result of his ruling, that there had been a failure to consult with an open and receptive mind, the entire parking scheme in Primrose Hill was quashed and local residents were awarded costs.

In establishing these principles, Mr Justice McCullough drew upon a number of legal precedents: R v Secretary of State for Social Services ex p Association of Metropolitan Authorities (1986), R v Gwent County Council and Secretary of State for Wales ex p Bryant (1988), R v Governors of Haberdashers' Askes Hatcham Schools ex p Inner London Education Authority (1989).

In particular Rollo and anor v Minister of Town and Country Planning (1948), where it was judged the local authorities in Sussex would have better knowledge of a situation in Sussex, namely Crawley, than a Minister of State in London.

'I would like to read a few lines at the end of the judgment of Morris J, which appears to me to sum the whole thing ups so well. He says this ... :'

'The holding of consultation with such local authorities as appear to the Minister to be concerned is, in my judgment, an important statutory obligation. The Minister, with a receptive mind, must by such consultation seek and welcome the aid and advice which those with local knowledge may be in a position to proffer in regard to a plan which the Minister has tentatively evolved.'

The thinking of Mr Justice McCullough was that the people of a locality will have local knowledge, be they a local council versus the Secretary of state or a local neighbourhood versus the local council.

The people of a neighbourhood are going to be best placed to understand the impact of garden infill; regular visitors to a town centre, the retailers who trade there, are best placed to understand the impact of town centre redevelopment; and yet these are very people, people with local knowledge, who are invariably ignored.

The century-old Queen's Market is under threat of destruction, to be replaced by a superstore and block of yuppie flats. 1200 local people have signed a petition saying the development by St Modwen, the Developer from Hell, is not wanted. A study by the highly respected economic think tank New Economics Foundation has shown the detrimental impact the development will have on the local economy and the benefits conferred by Queen's Market. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed how important the market was to local people as a social space. The Commission for Racial Equality commissioned DEMOS to carry out a study of Queen's Market, part of a strategic study of key locations in London. The response of the local mayor has been to call objectors 'troublemakers' and to vow to go ahead with the scheme, opening the council to a judicial review as clearly there has been no proper consultation, worst still, the development scheme has been predetermined before any planning determination.

At Walthamstow, St Modwen wish to build a superstore and yuppie flats. The development is out of character with the area, will destroy the local economy, is strongly opposed by local residents and special interest groups, and yet the council seems determined to press ahead. This would be another case for judicial review as it is hard to see how the local council has complied with the Primrose Hill judgment.

In Aldershot, a development called Westgate next to an edge-of-town Tesco superstore will shift the retail centre of gravity way from the town centre and towards Tesco. The High Street names the developer hopes to attract will drain money out of the local economy. Local town centre retailers have highlighted the impact it will have on them and the town centre, the most likely impact to kill off what little remains of a dying town centre. Their views were ignored. This is what is jokingly called 'town centre regeneration'.

In Farnborough, St Modwen has trashed the town centre. When this was placed before the planning committee, the report had a few bullet points from objectors, the rest of the report was a regurgitation of what the developer wanted. The committee passed it on the nod, the usual rubber-stamping exercise. Like Aldershot, it is jokingly called 'town centre regeneration'.

In Epsom, infill, gardens classed as brownfield sites, is destroying a once attractive town. Those with the money and resources to do so, are thinking of relocating elsewhere.

On the South Coast a number of strongly opposed developments have been pushed through or are being pushed through. At Titnore Woods, a housing scheme will trash ancient woodland. The property crash may have in turn trashed the scheme. In Brighton, a tower block behind the marina will ruin the Regency backdrop. The local Member of Parliament on behalf of the developer told the local council to ignore the views of opponents and push the scheme through, which Skidrow-on-Sea dutifully did. At Bognor Regis yet another tower block from the Developer from Hell St Modwen. The tower block will result in closure of the esplanade. St Modwen claim to be regeneration specialists, in reality the are specialists in destruction of green belt and town centres. A local referendum in Bognor Regis gave a resounding no to St Modwen and their proposals. A referendum the local council appear to be ignoring. The only meaningful consultation in Bognor Regis has been by the local Civic Society. The tower blocks at Bognor Regis and Brighton will not only despoil the seafront but also be visible from the South Downs. The Brighton tower block is contrary to an Act of Parliament that was enacted to protect the historic backdrop.

The latest act of crass stupidity from the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor is the decision to put every household on half-size wheelie bins at a cost of £750,000 to the local taxpayer. This follows on from last year when the council forced several thousand households onto fortnightly waste collection, such was the strength of the public backlash the council was forced into a humiliating climbdown and was forced to revert to weekly waste collection. The decision to then give everyone a half-size wheelie bin is vindictive and childish, and does not to engage with the public to encourage more recycling.

In all the cases cited (and many more could have been cited), the local council has not only ignored the views of local people, it has ridden roughshod over the views of local people, making a farce of any so-called consultation exercise. Consultation that is a legal requirement.

The Primrose Hill ruling is a step in the right direction, but we will not have local accountability until we have participatory democracy where local communities are part of the decision making process.

reference and background

Bognor poll: It's a resounding NO to more flats, Bognor Regis Observer, 20 June 2008

Call for ideas to regenerate Bognor, Littehampton Gazette, 16 July 2008

Pete Castle, New Bin scheme unveiled, Farnborough News, 1 August 2008

CiViC call for new debate on Bognor regeneration, Chichester Observer, 19 June 2008

CiViC to set up debate on Bognor's future, Bognor Regis Observer, 16 July 2008

Eco-warriors mark two-year demo, BBC news on-line, 24 May 2008

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003

Keith Parkins, Skidrow-on-Sea approves tower block on Brighton Marina, South Coast Indymedia, 7 August 2006

Keith Parkins, Gardens under threat, Indymedia UK, 26 March 2007

Keith Parkins, North Camp traders suffer, Indymedia UK, 21 July 2008

Keith Parkins, North Camp street parking, Indymedia UK, 28 July 2008

Public spaces, social relations and well-being in East London, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Smaller bins on way, gethampshire, 31 July 2007

What closing seafront would mean, Bognor Regis Observer, 29 February 2008

Keith Parkins


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