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Harlow Conservatives slam Labour Group for “failing the residents of Harlow over the local plan”

News / Thu 27th Sep 2018 at 01:50pm

THE Conservative Group has slammed the Labour Group at Full Council for failing the residents of Harlow over the local plan.

A total of just 72 organisations and individuals made representations to the recent consultation represents a failure of the Labour-run council to adequately engage Harlow residents on the future of their town.

Localism was introduced to give residents a greater say in what is built in their community. This places an obligation upon the council to properly engage with residents, to make them aware of the consultation, to explain the complexities of the proposals, and to encourage them to give their views. The council even failed to explain that this was a consultation only on the ‘soundness’ of the plan as most of the responses related to the content.

Cllr Michael Hardware, opposition spokesman on the local plan, said: “This is an abject failure by Labour. They knew this was an issue as the previous consultation in 2014 produced only 126 responses, a level the previous Labour leader, Jon Clempner, accepted was a poor result.

“The council had the option to follow the example of neighbours Epping Forest where a PR company was retained to engage with residents producing over 3,000 responses to the first consultation, and 1,000 to the final consultation.

“The Portfolio Holder decided to do the barest minimum to comply with the regulations, instead of making an effort to give Harlow residents a real say in the future.

With such a low level of consultation responses the Planning Inspector, who will now review the Harlow local plan, may consider that the plan has not been properly consulted upon.

Cllr Hardware continued: “Instead of wasting £80,000 on vanity PR campaigns which have produced next to nothing by way of results, spending just a proportion of that budget on PR engagement for the local plan could have produced some real results, ensuring a greater number of local residents participated in the local plan process.”

As I said at Cabinet last week, the consultations for both the reg 18 and reg 19 stages of the local plan have been a abject failure for Harlow Council – I have been doing a bit of research and can find no other local authority with the appalling level of response that Harlow has managed to achieve.

I was talking to a councillor in Dacorum, Hemel Hempstead, last Friday, the day after cabinet – he was complaining that his council has had to employ extra people to go through the 12,500 responses to their Reg 18 consultation, with St Albans next door complaining about getting just 2,500. He thought I was joking when I said Harlow had received just 72.

When Localism was introduced in 2011, the aim was for councils to involve local communities, allowing them a greater role in decision making, to have a greater say in what was built and where. This placed an obligation on councils to actively engage with their communities and encourage participation, especially the hard to reach groups. The obligation to engage has actually existed since the 2004 Housing Act, but only a few councils seemed to pay any attention to this Labour legislation.

But that obligation is now a real one, although Labour run Harlow Council decided at both consultations to ignore this and do the barest minimum, depriving the residents of Harlow of the opportunity to truly be involved with their local plan. What compounds this is that the Labour council knew this was an issue having only achieved 126 responses at the previous consultation.

They seemed oblivious to issue: they obviously do not value the opinions of their residents. Even with the poor response from the first consultation, accepted by the then leader of Labour as not being good enough, they did nothing extra this time, which is why there were only 72 responses: No one knew about the consultation, or understood what was required.

What makes this worse is that the Portfolio Holder had the benefit of the experience of Epping Forest next door: they made a real effort to engage their residents and achieved 3,300 and 1,000 responses to their consultations.

Accepting that this is an issue, the council has already sought legal advice from a barrister, which does not come cheap.

Instead of wasting money on barristers, and vast sums on vanity PR projects which achieve nothing, perhaps the council should have spent some money on PR for the local plan and given the residents of Harlow a proper opportunity to participate in their local plan instead of treating them with contempt by doing the barest minimum.

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2 Comments for Harlow Conservatives slam Labour Group for “failing the residents of Harlow over the local plan”:

tenpin
2018-09-28 19:36:04

What a pathetic response by Labour Councillors to the issues raised by the Conservative Councillors concerning the lack of consultation with the residents of Harlow. To say that: 1 They have taken legal advice to check how sound the Plan is, must mean they had some doubts! 2 That ECC consulted on an issue but ignored the result, so what Harlow DC has done is OK. Two wrongs don't make a right! 3 The Epping DC area is many times bigger than Harlow so the number of responses cannot be compared. The fact is, despite the size of the District, Epping DC has about 60000 homes, Harlow has 36000. Epping DC got some 3000 responses to it's first consultation, Harlow got 126!. 4 That as nothing new came out of the responses received, numbers didn't matter, so no changes were made. The fact that for example the Harlow Alliance Party's petition actually had 383 names to it was not recorded but in any event was ignored. Indeed most of the comments were against at least some part of the Plan, but despite this the Plan was agreed by all the Labour Councillors and opposed by all the Conservatives present. The simple fact is, Harlow Labour wanted to keep this plan under wraps for as long as possible. It could have used Harlow Times to consult, but only put an article into this publication a few days after the consultation date had passed. It made no attempt to consult with those who did not have access to the internet. It only met with 4 local groups when it could have spoken to it's tenants and leasehold groups and held public meetings like many other authorities carried out. This only compounds the fact that the Labour group have been working hand in hand with neighbouring authorities, who have no obligation to consult with Harlow residents so for example residents in Red Willows and areas nearby face the prospect of hundreds of homes being built over their back garden fence without any chance to comment on the proposals.

jhumphreys84
2018-10-17 15:47:39

I hate to point this out but many Conservative councilors weren't even present at the vote when this plan was passed, bit late to complain now. I was one of the 72 to respond, but mainly because I knew about it and thought the proposal had serious flaws as well as breaching 3 of 5 of the own councils building rules. most of the evidence for this plan is 10 years out of date and many of the areas do not have the infrastructure to support extra homes. The reports that we're used as evidence were in many cases wrong and not actually completed to a satisfactory standard, let alone taking in policy updates in land development such as re-homing endangered or protected species of the UK (bats, hedgehogs etc which now require certain licenses and permits). This whole thing is a farce. You do not need a PR company or £80k to publicise this, its a very simple job that could have been carried out in many ways by anybody with half a brain. There's a free newspaper and newsletter that goes directly to residents of Harlow's doors. Now barrister fees are being wasted to tidy the mess up. I'm not sure who even drew this plan up is qualified in area development as they seem to over looked some very basic things, let alone paid any attention to the housing problems that actually affect Harlow. I totally agree with the previous comment that "Labour wanted to keep this plan under wraps for as long as possible." That is clear, but both sides of council have made some real foul ups...and you know what, it won't be them who have to live with the consequences of it.

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