New forum to give objectors a say on developments

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OBJECTORS will have more of a say in voicing their concerns about major developments in town.

From April 1 a new scheme will be set up by Hastings Borough Council whereby any planning application involving 30 or more homes will have to be presented to a public forum.

This would mean developers would outline their proposals to the public, councillors and other interested parties before submitting their plans.

Objectors would then be able to voice their concerns.

The pre-application consulation forum, as it is called, would also cover any industrial application involving 5,000 square metres or more of land and retail schemes of 2,500 sq metres or more.

Councillors gave the scheme the thumbs-up at their cabinet meeting on Monday.

Tim Cookson, borough planning officer, said developments such as the Asda store in Silverhill, the upcoming Jerwood Gallery and Station Plaza would have come before such a forum if one had already existed.

Councillors visited their counterparts at Havant District Council recently, which already runs forums, to see how it worked.

The new scheme will run on a one-year trial basis from April 1.

Councillor Peter Chowney said: “This was one of our pledges in our manifesto at the election last year and it is nice to see it come to fruition.

“There are only around five authorities in the country that do this.”

Cllr Phil Scott said the forum scheme offered a ‘real opportunity’ for people to get involved in the planning process.

He said: “This is a great start and shows that this authority is taking on board people’s concerns.

“To narrow it down so that forums deal with applications involving 30 homes or more is also very good as some of these development sites have been controversial.”

Cllr Peter Pragnell described the move as a ‘thoroughly good idea’.

He said: “This is likely to satisfy a lot of objectors who are genuinely worried about developments in their area.”

But Cllr Peter Finch said there could be exceptional cases where there could be a controversial or unpopular application involving far less than 30 homes.

His comments were echoed by Richard Price, from the Hastings Planning and Heritage Watchdog, a campaign group set up to fight unpopular planning decisions.

He said: “Since the system covers only developments of 30 or more units, those of fewer than 30 will have little or no community involvement.

“The fact that developers will doubtlessly submit applications of just under 30 units and/or divide planning applications into two or more specifically to avoid such involvement is a concern to us,” added Mr Price.