11.07.19…..The GDPR Directive from the EU caused instant loss of a huge chunk of democratic right and accountability concerning the planning process. Long before its recent implementation, however, Brighton & Hove City Council was reducing transparency and access. It’s official; they want us to keep our noses out of it.
In 2012 the then Development Control Manager, Jeanette Walsh, withdrew public access to hard copy planning application material which is much easier to study and for those without home computers, an essential way of looking at what is proposed. I was informed that soon even the officers would be paperless and so my longstanding practice of studying case files came to an end.
Hard Copy Case files used to contain plans, Neighbour and Statutory consultation records and responses, email and other correspondence between officers and client developers. You could see the genuine, the cynical and the bogus consultation letters sent in by the developer’s employees, parents, friends in Melbourne Australia!!!!
Once online-only access became the norm, BHCC at least still published lists of addresses sent Neighbour consultation letters so you could check if addresses still existed or if crucial ones had been left unconsulted. You knew if it was the statutory 3 or a few hundred. You knew who had been lettered as an internal or statutory consultee. You could follow a transparent and accountable process. And tell them when addresses consulted no longer existed…long ago converted to flats, demolished, replaced with tower blocks or in the case of George St, converted to retail. One address given as a load of flats was in fact the RBS bank in the modern era. The record consulted by BHCC was 40 years out of date and there was no money to update it.
The change of online system used by BHCC removed all references to names and addresses in harsh redactions but added some useful functions and the text of resident consultation responses…but anonymity became the rule. There was a larger box to write more words in making an online response but the right to email longer text, photo and other attached evidence was withdrawn. I went to war over that. And with the support of Argus reporter Joel Adams and Council Leader Dan Yates, I got it reversed in May 2018. The attempt to steer consultation responses into a small box in sidings was reversed.
But now we have the EU’s GDPR strangling involvement further. There is no right whatsoever to know who was sent a Neighbour letter or to necessarily read Official Consultee responses from outside bodies. Public consultation responses are anonymous – we cannot even know what City, Country, Ward, Constituency, let alone street they come from and as The Brighton Society say in a new post the process is open to abuse.
The application of redactions can be inconsistent. Luckily for the freehold owner of Newtown Road Trading Estate Units 1-4, who put that info into his objection to the Sackville Trading Estate and enough to help get him traced and contacted, I was able to represent the interests of the protected employment strip in Newtown Road (City Plan DA6) and write a couple of posts here around the issue he (too loosely) brought to officer attention (which they 100% ignored) – the small matter of acquired noise rights which would give residential right to get unrestricted B1, B2, B8 activity curtailed in that industrial and semi-industrial supposedly protected strip. I recognised the noise issue instantly from a previous Newtown Road application which converted a derelict factory site to flats and quoted it at Planning too!!
We need to be able to help one another and to stand up to what is being done to reduce our involvement and ability to network and cooperate over planning issues. The over application of GDPR is, I suspect, yet another manoeuvre by stressed planners struggling to cope with staff reductions and resources. But it has to be resisted. The Planning Committee are not even allowed to know where letters of support or objection come from and it is not good enough for Liz Hobden to tell the Brighton Society that numbers of responses are not part of the decision process. Cllrs ARE influenced by the level of public involvement. And they are uneasy with what is not allowed too.