When this website was set up, nearly two years ago, one of the biggest concerns about the Neighbourhood Plan amongst members of the public was that meetings were being held and decisions made behind closed doors. Six months later, Neighbourhood Plan meetings were opened to the public and there was at least some degree of transparency. But since the plan was submitted to Swale Borough Council, it seems the doors have closed again.
According to the Neighbourhood Plan timetable, the plan – along with its supporting documents and all the representations made in response to the final consultation – was scheduled to have been sent to the Independent Examiner by the end of January. That would mean an Examiner should have been appointed by now. Has this happened? Who is it? We don’t know.
One item conspicuously absent from the supporting documents was a Strategic Environment Assessment. There seems to have been general agreement that one would be needed, to comply with EU legislation, and it should have been carried out in parallel with the drafting of the plan. That didn’t happen, but we were told it would be done last autumn. There is still no sign of it.
A meeting of the Brents Community Association last week was told by a Swale Borough Councillor that there had been private discussions between English Heritage (EH) and Swale planning officers about the EH’s response to the Neighbourhood Plan. Apparently this took place some time ago, but there seems to be no information about it in the public domain. Although Faversham Town Council is responsible for the Neighbourhood Plan – Swale’s role is purely to advise and facilitate – it has said nothing about these discussions or whether it was involved in them, and they are not mentioned on the agenda for the Town Council meeting tonight (9 February).
If anyone knows what’s going on behind those doors, perhaps – in the spirit of “localism” – they would like to enlighten the public.