Jean Floodgate: Democracy is not being served in Harborough

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Harborough District Council needs to challenge housing proposals and democratically support the majority view of the people.

They also need to consider not just who owns the land being sold for development, but who owns the landscape!

The idea of Localism is admirable, particularly with the concept of promoting “participation and engagement” of the community in Neighbourhood and Development planning.

However, it depends on councils at all levels, parish, district and county working together.

It depends on them understanding and enabling real engagement through meaningful involvement, a sense of shared ownership and the opportunity to co-create a shared vision which is one of the main objectives of the Neighbourhood planning process.

It is not rocket science – it is obvious. People support what they help to create.

In North Kilworth the “participation” has been mainly invitations to occasional “drop in sessions” where individual comments are written in note books and dots are placed on maps. All of this data is collected but without any real community connection or engagement around it. It then gets edited into a new interpretation of the plan by a select few.

Indeed, many villagers have not bothered to turn up to such sessions because they feel, from past experience, that their voice does not really count.

There have been two occasions now where a vote has been taken in North Kilworth to decide on the preferred site for new housing. Each time the vote has resulted in the same order of preference for three pieces of land. However, each time the parish council has apparently acted, unwittingly or otherwise, in support of the third choice piece of land.

It was suddenly put forward as the chosen site, without consultation, in the revised draft Neighbourhood plan in January 2016. A petition against this signed by 127 people, along with written challenges to the draft plan, resulted in the need for a second vote. When the vote came out the same way again in June the revised Neighbourhood plan, due to appear by the end of July, has still not yet emerged.

This pause in the process, the parish council’s recent refusal to allow publication of 20 villager’s questions about the planning activities in our local newsletter while requesting the district council to block the second choice planning proposal, has left the way clear for the third choice site developers to significantly progress their planning application, relatively unopposed, well in advance of the other two sites.

The sting in the tail is that Government policy requires, in the absence of a submitted emerging or completed Neighbourhood Plan, that the district council presume in favour of the first past the post developer’s application irrespective of the wider community wishes and the housing allocation appropriate to the village itself!

Surely there is something wrong with all of this?

We can only hope Harborough District Council uphold democracy and protect the character and integrity of our villages by listening to the majority view at community level and challenging the ill-conceived policy constraints set by the Government.

Neighbourhood Plans are for the period up to 2031 so why can’t planners step in now and stop ALL proposed site planning applications by developers until there is a level playing field for decisions and clear evidence of a democratic and fair process being followed?