Billericay District Residents' Association

incorporating the Billericay Action Group

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The local topics that are currently of interest

 

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As some of you may be aware, a number of planning applications have been submitted for development on the Green Belt, predominantly along London Road.
These total nearly 700 houses, a retirement/care facility, sheltered accommodation and a Lidl food store.

For more information go to www.billericayactiongroup.org.uk

 

 

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The BDRA has written to the Head of Planning at Basildon Council with some observations and suggestions about the way Planning Applications are handled by the Council's Planning Committee.


We'll let you know when a response is received.

 

The main text of the note is as follows;

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We would like to raise our concerns regarding the functioning of the Planning Committee.

Being a Regulatory committee, where its decisions could have serious implications on the Borough’s residents, and also financially (to council and applicant), it is essential that it operates in a transparent way, free from external influence and pre-determination, such that local people can have full faith in the outcomes. Also, that the public has full sight of the information that is available to council officers and committee members that has allowed a recommendation and decision to be reached.
 

That said, we believe there are aspects of the Planning Committee that bring that openness and transparency into question.
 

Planning Application Comments

Basildon Council took the decision several years ago not to publish the comments submitted on a planning application, whether from statutory or non-statutory consultees. 

As it stands, the e-Planning system only shows the names of the statutory consultees, not what they have submitted, and does not show how many comments have been submitted overall.

 

The public, and councillors, only see a summary of all comments in the planning officers report, typically made available a week before the committee meet to consider the application. We do not know if councillors have access to the full comments before the committee meets, or whether they actually consider the need to see them, relying on the officer's report being a sufficiently accurate and comprehensive summary.

 

From the public’s perspective it means that they do not have the full material facts that have been put forward to support, or question, a planning application, especially if they plan to speak at the committee meeting.

 

Our suggestions are:

 

All planning application comments are published on the ePlanning system in full once they are received and before the officer's report is published, with personal information redacted, if necessary, but with no redaction of the content unless it is deemed justifiably sensitive. 

Consideration is given to making the deadline to submit comments from both statutory and non statutory consultees co-terminus as today non-statutory consultees have less time to comment.
 

Technical Briefings

These briefings, which typically take place the day before the Planning Committee meets, raise questions over transparency and possible pre-determination. Also, as attendance is not mandatory, it is possible that some councillors are better informed than others by the time of the committee meeting.

 

Our suggestions are:
 

That these meetings are stopped forthwith to remove any possibility of inappropriate influence and pre-determination, or, 

the technical meetings are fully minuted with those minutes made available to councillors and the public at the time of the Planning Committee meeting.
 

Non-material Influence

We have noted that it is increasing the case that the Chair of the Planning Committee, and on at least one occasion the council’s legal representative, has made comments that we do not believe are a material matter for the planning application in question. Most specifically, the implications for refusing an application leading to an appeal that would be inevitably lost at cost to the council. We note that some appeals against the decisions of the Planning Committee are being rejected by Planning Inspectors.

As such comments are typically made just before the vote we feel they are exerting a non-material influence on councillors at a crucial time. 

 

One suggestion is:
 

The Chair, or others, are given clear guidance on what is appropriate to say at the meeting such that the public can have faith that no undue influence has been made that could affect a councillor’s decision. The difference between fact and opinion must be clearly identified and that difference accurately recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

 

Training

On occasions we have wondered whether all councillors on the Planning Committee have had adequate training, as the position mandates. 

 

We have observed councillors approving a development in the Green Belt because they considered the land to be scruffy, part pre-developed or just scrub land serving no purpose. None of those are recognised attributes that should allow the Green Belt to be released for development. As you are no doubt aware, there are five purposes of the Green Belt that are based on what it does, not what it is, how it looks or how it is used. 

 

Our suggestions are:
 

Ensure that all committee members (full members and very specifically substitutes) have adequate training on the basics of planning.

Publish and maintain a list of the councillors that are deemed to have up to date training and can therefore stand on the planning committee, together with the date of the training.

 

We appreciate that our suggestions would require change to current practices, and could introduce additional work, but we believe they would result in a better system in which residents residents can have greater faith.

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We look forward to your comments. 

 

Cllr. Andrew Schrader provided an update regarding the future of the High Street Post Office.

Nov 2023

Recently, the Billericay & District Residents’ Association brought to my attention a rumour that the One Stop convenience store in Billericay High Street may be about to close. This, naturally, raised alarm bells with me, as One Stop is also home to our local Post Office. The counter facilities offered at One Stop have become doubly important since so many of the banks vacated the High Street, with residents advised to use the counter service at the Post Office for their day-to-day banking.  

Fortunately, we are served by an exceptionally good Economic Development Team at Basildon Council, led by my colleague Councillor Anthony Hedley as Cabinet Member for Business Engagement. I immediately contacted Councillor Hedley and his very proactive Head of Economic Development and asked them to make some enquiries.  

They reacted quickly, reaching out to One Stop and the Post Office. The bad news is that One Stop confirmed that they have taken the difficult commercial decision to close their Billericay store, which will necessarily result in the closure of the Post Office branch. 

One Stop recently served 12-months’ notice to the Post Office that they were relinquishing their role as a Postmaster, so both the store and the Post Office will be closing in November 2024. They will continue to provide a service until then – unless a replacement Post Office opens before that. So that gives us a year to make alternative arrangements.   

There is a Post Office in the Sunnyville Store on Perry Street and at South Green Shops, but I am nonetheless determined to ensure that we retain Post Office services in Billericay High Street. The Council has already spoken to the Post Office. They confirmed that they had been given notice by One Stop and have already had some interest from potential replacements. They will shortly be formally inviting applications on their website. This is, therefore, very promising. Basildon Council is committed to help in any way we can to secure a replacement Postmaster for Billericay High Street. 

In the meantime, the Council is also investigating setting up a ‘Banking Hub’ in Billericay to counter the loss of so many high street banks. One was launched in Rochford a year or so ago and appears to have been successful. Our local MP, John Baron, has also written to both the Post Office and Cash Access UK, opening a dialogue, and requesting a cash access review of Billericay.  

John Baron is arranging a meeting in the New Year with representatives of all concerned parties to chart a way forward and I will endeavour to keep residents informed of developments. We are all agreed that is essential that arrangements are put in place swiftly to relocate Post Office services in Billericay High Street and I am confident that this provision can be retained. 

 

 

 

A 'Thank You Event' was held recently for the volunteers that freely give their time for the various roles that are needed to support the Association. 

A few photos may be seen by clicking here.

 

September 2023

 

THE LOCAL PLAN CONSULTATION

 

 

The Basildon Borough Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation has now closed.
You can continue to view the Consultation at https://basildonlocalplan.commonplace.is/
but you can no longer make comments.

 

The results will be analysed and used to inform the development of the new Draft Local Plan.

A report will be made to Cabinet on the Consultation findings in early 2024.

This has been the first conversation with the local  communities and other interested parties, and there will be continued engagement  throughout the development of the new Local Plan for the borough.

 

 

 

History has shown that residents can make a difference when it comes to the Local Plan.

It’s now time to prove that once again.