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complaint ref 1342
Dear Mr Bunnett
Thanks for your letter undated but postmarked 8.7.8 complaint ref 1342 that: I am complaining that Thanet District Council has chosen to restrict access to comments on the UKPlanning website, that is on the public facing part of the website only.
I have numbered the paragraphs of your letter below to make my reply easier to comprehend and will number my responses accordingly, thank you also for reading the supporting correspondence and replying to some of the matters raised in it.
1 Thank you for formally entering my complaint.
2 I appreciate the council planning department bases its planning files on paper and then publishes selected documents on UKPlanning, it is this selection that is a major issue to me.
3 I appreciate that the UKPlanning site is expensive and difficult to use both for the planning department and the public and I hope your new site will be an improvement, however I fail to understand why only the documents from the paper file sent for scanning are those submitted by the developer. Can you please tell me why those submitted by everyone else are omitted?
4 Yes thank you, I have found Doug Brown to be a helpful and competent officer.
5 Could you then explain to me why UKPlanning say: “The reason your comment is not showing on the UKPlanning website is due to Thanet`s public access choices. Thanet District Council choose to restrict access to these comments at this case status on the public facing website”?
6 I appreciate that that complex planning applications are not a new subject, perhaps had Westwood Cross Town Centre planning application been available electronically its highway infrastructure would have been better.
7 I am not asking for all files to be published in the interim period, just the complete folders for the very large applications that effect a large number of the population. I find it quite acceptable that small folders that can be read in an hour or so are only available at the council offices.
8 You have to appreciate that this file runs to hundreds of pages and is being added to all the time. I have a business to run and four children to look after so it is hardly practical for me to visit the planning department every few days to keep up to date. To read through the entire file, cross referencing the things that appear incongruous, like the disparity between the conditions for surface runoff between this application and previous conditions for applications on the site takes a very long time indeed.
9 Yes please escalate the complaint to stage 3 for me. Could you tell me at which point I am able to escalate this to the LGO as I am concerned that delaying the issue is putting people wishing to object at a disadvantage.
The only inference that I can draw from publishing only the documents submitted by the developer, is that an attempt is being made to influence objectors in favour of the development, could you perhaps suggest an alternative reason?
I should further point out that I have received the comments from three statutory consultees electronically and were you to enable public access to all of the documents on the planning website, you wouldn't even need to send them for scanning but could just post them onto the site.
Finally you will appreciate that, as I don't know which documents I am being denied access to on the UKPlanning website I am unable to officially complain that you haven't published them there, I will of course raise an official complaint that they are missing once I can see which documents are not there.
Yours sincerely Michael Child
Mr M Child
72 King Street
Dear Mr Child
COMPLAINT REFERENCE NUMBER 1342
1 Thank you for your e-mail message of 21 June 2008. In accordance with your wish, your complaint has been formally entered on the Council's system - hence the reference at the head of this letter. I am responsible for the Stage 2 reply because Brian White is one of my staff and you are not satisfied with his reply.
2 Referring to your earlier correspondence with Mr White, and in particular his letter of 20 June, the important point for you to note is that the Council, like many other Planning Authorities, is still processing planning applications on paper.
3 The Council agrees with everything you say about applications and objections being available, in total, on the Council's website, and this is what we are working towards by the end of this year. The current arrangement, using the contractor UK Planning, has been a helpful interim step, but sending paper documents to be scanned some days later by UK Planning and then put onto the website is not a satisfactory way forward. Our intention, and the project has already started, is for all incoming information on planning applications not received electronically to be scanned when received. It will then go directly to the Council's website.
4 In the meantime the important source document for individuals like yourself, interested in any planning application, remains the planning file, and the planning file for application TH/08/0400 (China Gateway) is, like all others, held on paper. You know the Officer dealing with the application, Mr Doug Brown, and you are already in contact with him, as are many other interested stakeholders.
5 I do not accept your criticism that the Council is in any way restricting access to information; the truth is quite the opposite. Mr Brown, Mr White, myself and others are putting strenuous effort into making sure that the public consultation process is as open as possible.
6 Please remember that complex planning applications are not a new subject. When the Council considered the Westwood Cross Town Centre planning application, which represented a departure from policy, the planning application file was paper and not electronic. Public participation was absolutely central to the process and, indeed, may well have influenced the final decision in the manner in which particular attention was given to scheduling of investment in new highway infrastructure.
7 In conclusion then, whilst I do understand your wish to see all files processed and then publicly available on the website, this is not yet the position at Thanet - nor, for that matter, at most other Planning Authorities - but it will be when our project moving into electronic delivery of the Planning Service is complete.
8 For the time being, as an interested party in planning applications like China Gateway and Pleasurama, please make arrangements with the appropriate Case Officer (in both instances Doug Brown) to visit the office and read through the entire file.
9 This letter completes Stage 2 of the Complaints Procedure. If you are still not satisfied with my response, you may require that the complaint escalates to Stage 3. This will necessitate a review of my investigation and conclusions by Mr R Samuel, Chief Executive.
Deputy Chief Executive