When is a public consultation not a consultation - May 2013


The local plans process is long and complicated. It is designed to give everybody the opportunity to have their views taken into consideration by their democratically elected representatives. This is to ensure a wide consensus, so as to disprove people who say the Council will do what it wants regardless of the views of residents.


So imagine a situation where a Council decides that it doesn’t want to even hear what the public have to say! Believe it or not, this is Ryedale District Council.


Briefly this is what has happened: the Council had to submit its new plan to a government inspector. This was after a prolonged district wide public consultation which completely ignored the views of Malton and Norton residents (one quarter of the district’s population), as made public through the consultation into their Neighbourhood Plan.


There had to be a public hearing before the inspector, and Ryedale’s administration asked the Council for permission to make decisions during the hearing without having to come back to the Council. This seemed to be a reasonable request, as otherwise Council officers would have been arguing their case with their hands tied, and clearly some flexibility was needed.


The hearing took place and the inspector then produced his “interim conclusions” and asked the Council to produce and consult upon proposals for modifying the plan. Ryedale’s administration accordingly produced these, and went out to public consultation on them. However, the proposed modifications were never put to Council members for approval, and instead of the comments of the public coming back to council for consideration, they were passed on to the inspector without reference to Council or to any committee. 


 They say the resolution to give officers flexibility at the hearing authorises them to do this. Then five days before the hearing into the matter resumes the Council has produced a report on the public consultation, making it very clear that there should be no change to what the Council has previously done without proper consideration by members.


Now, am I thinking right, or has my perception of common sense been twisted by the clever reasoning of some  crazy, maverick, new-fangled  philosophy which believes the ordinary meanings of words and phrases can be turned upside down and made to mean the opposite of their dictionary definition? I used to think that if the Council was required to consult the public that means the Council is required to consider what the public have to say. Not Ryedale District Council! They clearly really do believe that they should carry on regardless, whatever residents may think, and that a public consultation is nothing more than an unnecessary formality where they need do no more than go through the motions.


Why are they doing this? Could it be something to do with the car park? It does look like it, because Ryedale have steadily refused to accept defeat on this issue and are still trying to achieve through the local plan process what they failed to achieve through development control. They seem determined to press ahead even if this exposes them to the risk of another huge legal bill – this time in the High Court. They want to take this risk at the expense of the Council tax payer – you and me – without allowing any public debate beforehand. 


They seem to have learnt nothing from the award of about £200,000 of costs against them or the resignation of Councillor Keith Knaggs. What a mess!



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