WARWICK District Council’s latest Local Plan consultation has been branded a sham.
The authority launched the consultation into the proposed plan – which when rubber-stamped will outline future development in the district up to 2031 – after the government’s Local Plan inspector Kevin Ward recently made modifications which would reduce the overall number of proposed homes built in the district to 17,139 – 740 fewer than originally planned.
But countryside campaigners the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) have written to the Planning Inspectorate to complain about the ‘secretive way’ the council has worked with the inspector since the Examination in Public closed in December.
The CPRE claim the inspector has been talking to Warwick District Council behind closed doors; that the council has repeatedly refused to provide details on the basis the planning inspector required confidentiality; and no public indication has been given of the inspector’s conclusions following public hearings in 2015 and 2016, or why he reached them.
They also claim the council has made no attempt to justify the further modifications now being proposed which include the removal of a number of previously earmarked sites.
CPRE particularly object to the level of house building proposed in the plan, which it argues was far too high and unachievable, and to the proposal for a sub-regional employment site close to Coventry Airport.
The result of these proposals say the CPRE would see large swathes of greenbelt between Warwick and Coventry earmarked for development.
The CPRE is now calling for the current consultation to be suspended until the inspector has reported on his interim conclusions and the council has given full justification for the modifications. They say only then will interest groups and individuals be able to respond authoritatively.
CPRE spokesman Mark Sullivan said: “The current consultation is a sham.
“The secretive way in which the plan has been dealt with since its Public Examination and the lack of explanation for the modifications now being proposed means that interested parties have been kept in the dark and cannot respond effectively.
“The plan is hugely controversial and the public are being denied the information they need to challenge it. This is nothing like the open, transparent process the Government says it wants for local plans.”
But the council dismissed the claims and said the council had asked the inspector to recommend the modifications he considered necessary to make the plan sound – which was what he did.
A council spokesman said: “There has been no talking behind closed doors.
“There has been no direct communication between the council and the inspector since the hearings closed. All communication has been by email through the programme officer.
“The inspector specifically asked the modifications to be kept confidential until they were ready for publication at the start of the consultation. This was because they were not for discussion by any parties – including the council – at that stage and to make them public earlier could have clouded and delayed the process.
“There is nothing “secretive” about the process. The inspector’s note and the resulting schedule of consultation has been published as part of the current consultation and is available on the council’s website
“The council is not aware of the reasons for the modifications proposed by the inspector any more than CPRE is. However, the process is entirely consistent with the legislation and regulations and the inspector will set out his reasons in full when he prepares his report. This will follow the completion of the current consultation.”
The current consultation runs until May 5.