Confusion persists following the recent highly misleading article in the Sittingbourne News
Home / Blog / Confusion persists following the recent highly misleading article in the Sittingbourne News
The Sittingbourne News published by the KM Media Group recently came under fire from Swale Borough Council following the publication of an article entitled ‘Scuppered consultation cost £620K’ which was described by the council as a wilful distortion of the facts.
Even the subsequent clarification has not helped matters as the paper implied that they had merely published the results of a Freedom of Information request seeking the total cost of the Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation from Swale council.
Firstly it is our understanding that request, which was not even a Freedom of Information request, came from Julien Speed who is the treasurer of the Sittingbourne & Sheppey Conservative Association and chair of Lynsted with Kingsdown Parish Council.
Copies of the response were sent to Mr Speed, and ward councillors Mike Whiting (Con) and Lloyd Bowen (Con).
Quite what happened thereafter, who contacted who, I do not know, but the newspaper article centres around Cllr James Hunt’s (Con) discontent with the council’s expenditure on planning matters and in particular the costs in relation to the Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation.
The article quotes Cllr Hunt as saying “This shows once again that substantial amounts of money have been wasted”
However, on reading the detail of the response it becomes obvious that the costs include for the staffing costs of the entire planning policy team, external consultants, IT Equipment and communication costs, some of which it notes, dates back to the start of the local plan review process which stretches all the way back to July 2017.
The actual costs associated directly with the Regulation 19 consultation are a little harder to define but certainly the items which the response specifically attributes to this are in tens of thousands of pounds rather than the hundreds claimed.
Assuming for a minute that it was the newspaper who made the blunder with the figures, we would still need to address the case for arguing that the council had indeed wasted substantial amounts of money in preparing the local plan review as Cllr Hunt has claimed.
For context it might be helpful to have a benchmark and as it happens, we know the cost of the previous local plan process conducted by the Conservative administration between 2008 and 2017.
Over the 9-year period costs totalled £4,437,310, which provides us with an average annual cost of £493,000.
For clarity I should acknowledge that the two consultations are not the same, the former plan was a brand-new plan from the ground up whereas the review is supposed to be just that an interim 5-year progress review.
That said the impact of the ever-increasing housing targets has had huge repercussions on the expenditure incurred by all local borough councils who are in the midst of preparing their local plans.
Plan reviews were never intended to cater with such substantial changes. Increasing housing, means increased infrastructure, employment, health and education provision plus all the supporting services and this means that in effect the review is closer to a whole new plan than a review.
The truth is that the quoted £621,923 which includes some costs going back to 2017 does not appear to be abnormal and the claim that the council has wasted money is therefore entirely unjustified. The costs appear to be inline with expectations and costs will vary from one year to another anyway.
Speaking on behalf of the council Cllr Mike Baldock (Ind), deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for planning, said:
“If you bought a brand-new car you wouldn’t claim the steering wheel cost you the thousands of pounds you just paid for the whole car.”
“To claim that the cost of the consultation includes the day-to-day work undertaken to review the existing local plan Bearing Fruits is a wilful distortion of the facts.”
“We were asked for a press comment but with insufficient time to provide a full response.”
“The costs quoted include 85 per cent of the staff budget for the entire planning policy team for the year, as well as the cost of commissioning all of the specialist reports and evidence needed to inform the local plan review.”
“This covers a wider range of issues from identifying development needs for employment land, housing, retail and leisure, to setting out the baseline position for biodiversity in the borough. These and many more are all part of the process of putting together a draft plan along with responses to community consultation.”
“We know some people disagree with the draft local plan, and they are entitled to voice their objections. But deliberate distortion of the facts does nothing but undermine faith in local democracy and pushes everyday people away from engaging with issues that affect them and their local community.”
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Sad to see this constant sniping and game playing rather than some serious cooperation for the residents of the borough.
Comment by Dave Wood on 16 Nov 2021