A Wealden Councillor has said the authority should start referring to its residents as ‘victims’ to reflect anger around recent planning decisions.
Speaking at a Full Council meeting yesterday (Wednesday 24th), Green Party Councillor Patricia Patterson-Vanegas made the tongue-in-cheek request to Conservative Council leader Bob Standley in an effort to draw attention to what she described as “increasing unhappiness” around house building within the district.
Cllr Pattterson-Vanegas said:
Cllr Standley, I wonder if you will consider changing the choice of the council to call our residents ‘customers’ for consistency. This is a question which refers to planning matters.
We are not fulfilling the old motto of the customer is always right, so we might as well start calling them victims or something. If we are going to continue ignoring their unhappiness and their anger due to planning decisions and overdevelopment.
If we impose a will that comes from a government which is increasingly authoritarian and combined with sleaze and action against the planet, then we definitely need to move away from the word customers.
Because the numbers that we are building are not based on the needs of our customers, they are based on the needs of a central government to fulfil their donations.
More seriously, what is Wealden District Council doing formally to address the increasing unhappiness that residents have due to planning decisions? Residents who pay for our work and elect us to represent them and speak for them.Cllr Patterson-Vanegas
The comments saw a strong response from Cllr Standley, who criticised the Green Party councillor for any suggestion that the Council’s planning department was connected to ‘sleaze’. In reply, Cllr Patterson-Vanegas clarified she was only referring to central Government.
Cllr Standley said:
Planning is always contentious. Planning committees, and you have sat on planning committees, have to decide under planning rules and that is what we do. I think to say they are victims is wrong.
We do, as you well know, lobby government particularly on housing numbers. I have recently written to the secretary of the state explaining our position, so I think the residents of Wealden can actually look at this council and know we are looking after their interests.
Any other suggestion I think is quite offensive.Cllr Patterson-Vanegas (Forest Row, The Green Party)
Issues around the Council’s planning processes were raised by a number of other councillors, including Independent David White.
Cllr White said:
My question follows on from the reply Cllr Standley gave to one of the questions from Cllr Patterson-Vanegas and it is a question to [cabinet member for planning Ann] Newton.
What weight should we attach to the value of public opinion? When you have over a thousand residents who wrote letters of objection, when you have two MPs who have raised objections and you have three local authorities that have raised objections to a particular planning matter.
Surely when you have that weight of objection you should give material weight to those objections.Cllr White (Hellingly, The Independent Group)
While not mentioned by name, Cllr White appeared to be referring to the 700-home Mornings Mill Farm application, which has proven to be highly controversial.
This scheme was considered by the Council’s Planning Committee South on 4th November. The Committee voted to refuse the application, but it was called in for debate at the Council’s other planning committee due to concerns around the reasons for refusal.
During that meeting Cllr White had called for the application to be refused in order for the matter to be settled at a planning inquiry in order to best serve local residents.
In response to Cllr White, Cllr Newton, Deputy Leader and Planning and Development Portfolio Holde, said:
We do of course give material weight to residents’ objections and residents’ comments and sometimes residents supporting an application.
But as you well know everything does come down to planning policy at the end of the day, whether that be the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] or our own policies.
But please don’t say we don’t take the residents into consideration, because we do, although we do have to make some very difficult decisions going forward as we always have.Cllr Newton, (Framfield & Cross-in-Hand, Conservative)
There was also an announcement on progress towards having electric vehicle charging points installed in car parks and the Councillors endorsed the Government’s COP 26 strategy.
Click to watch a video of the Wealden District Full Council meeting on Wednesday 25th November 2021 (video starts at 00:47:52).