The Villages Action Group has been made aware of a revised study, prepared for Arun District Council, concerning the re-alignment of the A29 through our villages. This study was circulated to our Parish councils with a request to respond in a very short timeframe. VAG’s Vice Chairman, Louise Beaton, who was at the Parish Council meeting when the study was discussed, then wrote to the Bognor Observer with her observations, as quoted below:
I attended the Aldingbourne Parish Council meeting on 5th Feb to ask our local representatives what news there was of the study ADC had commissioned into re-routing the A29. The response was a shock: Parish Councils in the affected areas had been given just 2 weeks to comment on a stakeholder document from the consultants. ADC had instructed them NOT to share it with the public and refused them more time.
This had clearly placed our Councils in a very difficult position: They are there to represent local people, they know this is a matter of grave local concern, they have worked closely with the Villages Action Group over the Local Plan consultation, and they would have welcomed informed comment.
Our Parish Councils had also been threatened by ADC that if they released this “stakeholder” document to the public other documents would not be shared with them. This is intolerable.
The Government is encouraging democratic engagement through the Localism agenda and Neighbourhood Planning. Parish Councils are our most local and accessible form of democratic engagement. Local councillors are volunteers and they deserve proper respect: documents with reasonable time to study and consult parishioners in order to provide well informed response. This is what Government and society expects. How can Parish Councils properly fulfil their potential without the ability to talk with people in the community about such an important matter?
This attitude will fetter work on Neighbourhood Plans: Non-councillors won’t have access to important information, decisions behind closed doors will make “fit” with the Local Plan impossible and a great deal of volunteer time and public expense will be wasted.
I asked ADC for a copy and was told it was not appropriate as it was only a draft working document. But that is exactly when well informed local input is needed. Refusing to share information gives rise to suspicion, creates a “storm in a teacup”, whereas had ADC asked parishes to share but not publicise it, so that comments came through the parishes, it would have enabled informal public engagement without fuss.
Surely ADC want to avoid wasting money? Without attention to detail a by pass could simply move the problem of delays at Woodgate further into in the villages, whereas the right solution could resolve a variety of problems.
A “stakeholder” document for comment should be shared with stakeholders. The local residents in the affected areas, including properly constituted amenity societies such as the Villages Action Group, are THE main stakeholders in this case.
There may be nothing of consequence in this document, but the fact that ADC refused to allow it to be shared with interested residents has roused suspicion that it is because the brief consultants have been given for the scheme has “drifted” from that presented for public consultation as part of the draft Local Plan, that it is now “skewed” in such a way as to make one or other option appear cheaper, or that the consultants have not been asked – as they should have been – to examine more sustainable alternatives – or perhaps all these.
There are only certain prescribed situations in which a local authority is prevented from issuing information to the public (eg personal or commercial confidentiality) and I fail to see how this could possibly be one of them. We must have better working together between ADC and our communities, for the benefit of the whole District.
Louise Beaton, Vice Chairman, Villages Action Group”
An edited version of this letter appeared in the paper and is reproduced on the Bognor Observer’s website, along with comments from readers.
The confidential documents that make up this study are, at Arun District Council’s request, not available for public distribution, but the joint response from Barnham and Eastergate Parish Councils can be read here.