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The Draft Core Strategy Controversey - A Closer Look at Consultation

Monday 24 January 2011, 13:27
By John Baxter

Reading the article first published in the Gazette District and Town Councillor Colin Winder is reported as having said with reference to the retail study carried out by consultants GVA Grimley, "If people had known about the plans to build on car parks I'm sure they would have reacted strongly. This report has been designed to confuse and it is no wonder these plans have gone by unnoticed."

In the same article former estate agent Nick Colbert is reported as saying, "Where is the public consultation? The Lib Dems seem to be operating a 'behind closed doors strategy' with reports paid for with public money being hidden away to the detriment of public debate."

The article continues, "Although the report suggests little requirement at present for retail development, this could change as the population grows. Wincanton residents were outraged at poor consultation over the core strategy, despite public meetings and leaflet distribution."

This is strong stuff. Is it accurate? I came across the map of Wincanton as featured in the Core Strategy and which we have published in the WW quite by chance. Since then it has attracted a lot of attention. I was however rather ignorant about the Core Strategy, and did not remember receiving any leaflet about it through the post. Certainly no-one on the Town Council sent the WW an article about how important the consultation meeting was, nor did anyone get around to putting the event onto the WW Diary. That was a pity.

Helen Rutter, South Somerset District Council Area East ManagerSince the Core Strategy is the responsibility of the District Council I decided to visit the Area East offices here in Wincanton at Churchfields. There I was quickly introduced to Helen Rutter who generously spent over an hour with me. Helen is the South Somerset District Council Area East Manager and has been very involved with the Core Strategy Plan since its inception and is currently still working on it. She told me around a hundred people turned up for the Wincanton consultation (population 5,000+). She added that there are still over a thousand representations from across the District expressing opinions about it which have to be assessed as a result of the consultation exercise. This ran from October to December in 2010. She emphasised this planning operation is important, necessary, complex and demanding and to get the work done there has to be a consultation cut off time.

The next point she wished to make was that the District Council had taken every step they could think of to advertise the consultation period and meetings. She also checked and found that the SSDC press officer had in fact sent me an email on October 4. It described the Draft Core Strategy and gave dates for all the consultations across the SSDC area. I missed its importance since the magic word Wincanton only appeared at the end and I often get several such emails every day and most do not refer to Wincanton. The SSDC also mailed a leaflet to everyone in the town. The Wincanton consultation was on Tuesday 9th November in the Town Hall and afterwards Colin Winder expressed his views on it in the WW, attracting several comments.

The Draft Core Strategy also featured prominently on the Home Page of the SSDC website for three months and remains accessible - this also includes all the comments people have made about the Dancing Lane area.

What happens next? Once all the comments already received have been analysed and evaluated the resulting Core Strategy will be presented to the full SSDC for approval. In September the Approved Core Strategy will be published before further Public Consultations, when there will be a final opportunity for objections and suggestions to be made. The resulting document then goes to a Planning Inspector (December - January) and in the Spring or early Summer of 2012 it should be adopted by SSDC.

I have read some of the comments several Dancing Lane residents have made. Some say they had only heard about the consultations by chance or like me say they had not received a leaflet by post - or did not remember receiving one. Helen Rutter assures me that the Post Office are adamant that they delivered the leaflets to everyone. I guess we will never know just how many got them.

Was the consultants retail report "designed to confuse?" They were not writing just about Wincanton, but the whole of the SSDC area which is extensive and very varied. Helen Rutter has this to say about it. "The retail report was written as a background, technical document, also available to anyone who wanted to view it alongside all the evidence documents the Council has used to inform its draft core strategy, either on the website or as a paper copy. It was a piece of background information. It did not make any proposals itself."

She continues, "Just to clarify. It's main conclusion for Wincanton was that there was very little need for any new retailing between now and 2026 and therefore the (District) Council has not proposed any retail growth or to allocate any pieces of land or car parks for retail development in the Draft Core Strategy."

As regards consultation it is a pity, but perhaps inevitable, that so few of us seem to have been aware of a planning document, even one as important as the Draft Core Strategy, despite the carefully planned attempts by SSDC to provide opportunities for us to learn about it and express our views. Still readers may wonder if this really gives grounds for saying that "The Lib Dems seem to be operating a 'behind closed doors strategy' with reports paid for with public money being hidden away to the detriment of public debate." Would not the consultation process be much the same whatever party was in the majority on the SSDC and don't we all need to use the available internet sources better? The SSDC site really is pretty comprehensive.

Most important we should all remember that the consultation process as regards the Core Strategy has one final step - after it is published in September 2011.

A final word from Helen Rutter. "We are disappointed that this has caused confusion but we continue to be available if anyone wants to ask any questions and to satisfy themselves of the facts."

Click here to read the Draft Core Strategy


Nick Colbert
Posts: 1
Hmm Facts?
Reply #1 on : Tue January 25, 2011, 11:39:38
As South Somerset district spin goes into overdrive I would like to point out a few facts.

The GVA Grimley report was so hidden away that Wincantons County Councillor Anna Groskop knew nothing of it, Colin Winder, one of Wincantons district councillors knew nothing of it, not one of Wincantons town councillors knew about this report and I have yet to speak to any resident of Wincanton that had been informed of its existence.

This is a major report, costing £17,000, that covers Wincantons retailing future up to 2,026, yet none of our councillors on 3 levels had it drawn to their attention. This is disgraceful. Colin Winder has been speaking on the need for jobs in Wincanton for some time now and I am sure he along with every other councillor would have welcomed the opportunity to debate this subject.

Since I made the report public people have expressed their anger that it had been buried and their delight that this issue will now be debated openly.

The District Council already have plans to go multi-story at Carrington Way so the bulldozers will be moving in at some point, it makes sense for our elected representatives to discuss how to enhance this area for the benefit of the town long before this takes place.

The core strategy proposals to build 1,053 houses in Wincanton by 2,026 would increase our population by around 2,000 (approximately 40%) - are we seriously supposed to believe that there will be virtually no additional demand for retail space in the town.

Anyone with any degree of common sense will know that such a massive increase in population over a comparatively short period of time will increase demands on all services considerably, not just retail. Therefore this important and expensive piece of research needs to be in the public domain so our elected representatives can have an informed debate as to our retail future.

Finally with regard to the land on the left of Dancing Lane as you head towards the hospital, being included in the core strategy for development, I would like to point out that it was smuggled into "Option 1" with no public consultation or debate. It was only debated after its inclusion in "Option 1". Another case of decisions being made behind closed doors by Lib/dems and officers I think. I would like to know who included this open farmland in "Option 1"? 100 acres would go from £750,000 agricultural value to £30 million as residential land.
Any answers, or is it another secret?

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