Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Local Plan: Scrutinizing the Scrutineers

It's like reading War and Peace 
Four of Hedge End's seven Borough Councillors were present at Tuesday's hurriedly arranged special meeting of the Council's Policy and Performance Scrutiny Panel, convened to review the "Pre-Submission" Draft of the Local Plan , its background documentation and the consultation responses.

Cllr Jane Welsh is a member of the panel, Cllrs House and Bloom were present as cabinet members responsible for portfolios relevant to the agenda, and Cllr Pretty was in the public gallery along with thirteen other councillors.  

I was quite impressed by the number of off-duty councillors taking an interest in the committee until I learned that the Lib Dems were holding a private internal group meeting as soon as the scrutiny panel finished!  In fact some members of HEBAG and I were still discussing the outcome of the scrutiny panel when we were asked to leave the public gallery so the Lib Dems could get on with their meeting.)

Considering the plan will inform Borough planning policy for the next quarter of a century, some members of the public were surprised to learn that this was the first time some of the documents were to be discussed in a formal council meeting.  The panel members were asked to indicate by a show of hands that they had all read the documents - which run to about 900 pages, and some of which have only been available for six days. 

Unfortunately the committee chair declined the invitation on their behalf.

The public gallery were left to draw their own conclusions based on the individual councillors' contribution to the scrutiny. 

Four of the panel members did not speak at all, not a single question, not a single comment on any of the 900 pages of papers.

Three members asked one or two questions relating to policies in their own patch.

One member asked three or four questions of a general nature, but only one - Eastleigh South's Paul Bicknell - asked a sufficient number of questions on more than one document to give the impression that he had thoroughly read the papers under discussion.

It may be, of course, that the quieter members had in fact read all the papers and were genuinely content with them, but if they don't say so when they are scrutinizing them in public, what do they expect their voters to think?

Most of the panel's comments and questions related to the 200 pages of the Local Plan draft itself, and one or two concerned the hundred-plus page Transport Assessment.

No-one mentioned the 168-page Sustainability Appraisal Report, the 135-page Habitat Regulations Assessment or the nearly two hundred pages of feedback from the public consultations.  As a lot of the representations were from Eastleigh electors, it was disappointing that none of the elected councillors seemed to be interested in what they had said.

In fact the whole experience was disappointing:  two hours of questions being deflected either by council officers or cabinet members resulting in two fairly trivial recommendations: one to remove mention of the renovation of a pond in Bursledon and one to allow local scouts to keep using a stretch of the River Hamble for training purposes.  By concentrating on the detail, the panel seemed to lose any vision or scrutiny of the planning strategy as a whole.


  1. Not sure who I am more disappointed with actually, the Lib Dems or Eastleigh's electorate...

  2. Do you know if the meeting was regarding Rose Bowl Keith?

  3. Natch, I didn't ask either...I had a feeling I might not get a straight reply!