Town council did have full debate on North Street scheme

Lewes town council planning committee did indeed discuss the application for the North Street Quarter on 14th April.

The district council is responsible for most planning decisions in the district and its planning committee has a very formal system of proposing acceptance or rejection of such proposals. The town council by contrast is a statutory consultee, merely making comments to reflect the town’s opinion. Its planning committee has almost never had a formal vote on any plan before it, but instead discusses and tries to come to some kind of consensus, which the town clerk then reflects in the written comments submitted. On this occasion we had such a long and detailed discussion that it was agreed that the town clerk would circulate a draft of his written comments for our approval. We were not altogether happy with his first draft, so we suggested improvements and even listened again to the audio recording of the meeting to make sure we were satisfied with what was submitted. That seems pretty democratic and thorough to me.

Cllr Stockdale says that only four members (I actually counted five) of the planning committee had attended the developers briefing the previous week, though of course there have been many other opportunities for us to meet him, study his plans and attend other briefings. He complains that only seven members of the planning committee were actually present. We are all unpaid volunteers and there are bound to be occasions when our members have other pressing engagements. As he well knows we do not operate a system of official substitutes at the town council. At least those present covered the whole spectrum of opinion on the council, including some from his own party. He says a number of us declared an interest, but the town clerk did not judge it to be an interest from which we could obtain any personal gain and so there was no reason to exclude anyone. We were merely being as open and accountable as he would expect us to be.

His complaint about the time we gave to the Santon planning application is completely without foundation. As is our custom we had agreed to hear a pre-application proposal for a barn conversion. The owner gave a power point presentation, as expected. We made very brief comments before saying that we looked forward to seeing his planning application in due course. But of course he had every right to take as much of our time as required. When we listened again to the North Street section of our meeting it occupied some 55 minutes of the recording – hardly a cursory appraisal of the plans. The developer did indeed send a letter outlining the key points in his plan, as he was unable to be present. I was more than happy to read it out, but it was pointed out to me that every member of the committee had a copy in front of them and I was advised to give just a brief summary for the benefit of members of the public present. My “blah, blah, blah’ covered just the usual niceties at the end of any letter and not any of the salient points.

Cllr Susan Murray

Chair Lewes town council planning committee