In an astonishing move reminiscent of North Korea or Stalinist Russia, Hart Council have decided to censor questions saying they “do not publish speculative views from the public” and that they will “prepare and publish guidelines on the format of questions that will be accepted”.
This arose because we asked three questions about school places, brownfield sites and whether Hart would consider an alternative approach to delivering the Local Plan. Each question had a preamble to set the context before the short question was asked. Hart have decided to censor the preamble part of each question so that members of the public can’t see them, although they did say they circulated the full text to councillors.
There is a saying that the flak gets heaviest when you are over the target, so I guess this means that the council are finding the questions we are asking uncomfortable. But we are astonished by their attempt to stifle democracy and how they seek to infantilise the debate about the best approach to the Local Plan.
We think the Planning Inspector will take a dim view of this approach as NPPF Para 155 says:
“Early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses is essential. A wide section of the community should be pro-actively engaged, so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made.”
This clearly places an obligation on Hart Council to consult widely and they seem to be afraid to engage, even though they asked us to make a submission to the Hop Garden Road (Owens Farm) appeal and were pleased to receive our criticism of the Rushmoor Local Plan.