Statement of Community Involvement, submitted by a powerful and expanding bloc of residents' groups from across the borough, has been formally endorsed by the borough's Planning Committee.
The Group of 15 residents' alliance, which includes the Independent Community Group (ICG), took the view that the original Statement was effectively a box-ticking response to the requirement laid down by central government for local authorities to adopt a formal process of community involvement in decision-making. Focusing to begin with on the important area of planning, the Group (which actually now comprises more than fifteen individual organisations) thus resolved to redress this deficiency by offering the following amendments:
1. The Statement of Community Involvement is a contract between the community and the Council with the purpose of encouraging the involvement of the public in all aspects of the planning process.
2. The SCI should be reviewed annually alongside the Council’s Annual Monitoring Report.
3. The SCI should enable and encourage the public to offer their views on planning policies and applications at Planning Committee and Area Forums where applications are called in for Members and the public to comment in a consultation capacity.
4. Registered amenity groups should be able to exercise a “community call in” where they believe a planning application would have a serious and adverse impact on their local community.
5. The draft SCI should be reviewed to remove ambiguous wording ensuring clear commitments are made that the public can have confidence the Council mean to deliver.
The document was submitted by:
Bedford Park Society,
Brentford Community Council,
Chiswick Protection Group,
The Grove Park Group,
Heston Residents’ Association,
Hounslow & District History Society,
Friends of Hounslow Heath,
Independent Community Group,
The Isleworth Society,
The Old Isleworth Four Roads Residents’ Association,
St John’s Residents’ Association,
St. Stephen’s Residents’ Association,
Strand on the Green Association,
Thornton-Mayfield Residents’ Association,
West Chiswick & Gunnersbury Society,
The West London River Group
The residents' case was ably presented to the Planning Committee by Andy Murray from the Grove Park Group and Councillor Sheila O'Reilly (Conservative, Osterley & Spring Grove) proposed that the Committee endorse it in its entirety, commenting that if anything the residents' amendments erred on the side of timidity in their approach. The Chair, Councillor Theo Dennison (Labour, Syon) was clearly enthusiastic and supportive and reassured residents that whatever choice of wording was adopted there would be no room for ambiguity. The amendment was adopted unanimously by the Committee.
So far so good, however it did not go unnoticed by residents that some members of the Committee, most notably Councillor Steve Curran (Labour, Syon), seemed to be keen to stress the view that the Planning Committee was forwarding a residents' consultation document to Borough Council for discussion rather than endorsing it in its own capacity. And, sure enough, when the minutes of the discussion were published this interpretation was indeed the one that was contained therein!
It was also noted that the Lead Member for Planning - Councillor Ruth Cadbury (Labour, Brentford) - did not attend this part of the meeting, choosing instead to turn up shortly after the item had concluded, and didn't seem that eager to discuss it with residents after the meeting.
The discrepancy in the record of the meeting was swiftly reported to the Chair via Twitter as soon as the erroneous minutes were published and his response was clear: "I have read decision notice now and agree it's not what PC agreed: G15 amendment was endorsed and goes forward as PC's view."
The community now has a clear commitment from the Planning Committee that it wholeheartedly endorses a resident-led approach to community involvement in the planning process, and that endorsement must inevitably carry a huge amount of weight when the matter comes to Borough Council (we believe) for decision.
I hope to be able to bring more news on this historic and far-reaching local development in due course.