NEW Forest District Council has been accused of secretive “behind the scenes” discussions with developers about major building projects.
The accusation was levelled by civic group the Lymington Society which urged the authority to be more open and do more to involve local people when proposals are at an earlier stage.
It spoke out after NFDC completed consultation last Friday on its formal Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), a revised document setting out how it engages with residents and groups during the planning process.
The society complained that developments are presented as a “fait accompli” with little input from residents – in contrast with government guidance that recommends “early engagement”.
Spokesman Don Mackenzie added: “The council states, however, that this is not compulsory, and the indications are that they are not planning to routinely use the powers that they have, to force developers to allow community involvement from the start of pre-planning discussions.
“We would urge them to rethink this and to use the powers they have to bring more transparency to the whole pre-application system.”
He added: “The society has for years asked that all major development applications in the town are put out to consultation with the community at the earliest possible stage and before the major elements of the scheme has been set in stone.”
The society also wants more time to speak at planning committee meetings on major schemes and for local “amenity societies”, such as itself, to be made statutory consultees in their areas, similar to policy at Westminster Council.
However, it welcomed the SCI’s assertion that “meaningful public consultation and engagement on all aspects of planning is vital”.
The SCI comes shortly after NFDC voted to approve its new Local Plan which sets out development policies and major sites to deliver more than 10,000 extra homes outside the national park by 2036.
In response to the Lymington Society’s criticism, NFDC issued a short statement saying: “Our public consultation period on our Statement of Community Involvement ended on Friday 21st August.
“The Lymington Society has submitted its comments on it and we are now considering all the responses received during the public consultation process.”