Comments on St Helens Local Plan may not be considered under new guidelines

St Helens Council e-mailed residents about the implications of the new guidance this week
St Helens Council e-mailed residents about the implications of the new guidance this week

Comments submitted during a St Helens Local Plan consultation that do not contain personal details will not be considered following a change in planning guidelines.

St Helens Council received more than 2,000 representations when it published the ‘submission draft’ version of the Local Plan earlier this year.

A statutory report is now being produced that will set out key issues raised by respondents before it is submitted to the government’s Planning Inspectorate, along with responses received during the consultation.

An independent planning inspector will then be appointed to examine the plan.

However, new national guidance published in June 2019 confirms that all representations received must be published as part of the examination process without names or addresses of respondents being redacted.

This also means representations submitted without these details will not be considered by the planning inspector.

St Helens Council emailed residents about the implications of the new guidance on Wednesday.

All representations received, including full names and addresses, will be published on the council’s website and cannot be treated as confidential.

Anyone who does not want their details included need to contact St Helens Council by Friday, October 18.

A council spokesman said: “The Planning Inspectorate brought in new national guidance in June after our original consultation had concluded, which is why we have contacted those who took part to raise the change in process ahead of the next phase of the Local Plan taking place.

“These changes apply even though the process has already started.

“The new guidelines state if names and addresses are not provided these representations are unlikely to be taken into consideration as they feel it is important that the inspector and all other participants are able to know who has commented on the plan.

“This guidance also says that all representations received must be published which means that names and addresses will be published on the council’s website.”

Rainhill Independents leader James Tasker said he is “concerned” some comments may not be considered, despite residents following advice from the council and councillors on how to submit them.

He said while it might be a mistake it could be seen as a “deliberate attempt to deny people a voice” in opposing the Local Plan and green belt development.

Fellow Rainhill Independent Donna Greaves believes the new guidance is “unfair” as it excludes certain people who cannot publish personal details.

Coun Greaves said: “So if you are a police officer, social worker, prison officer, barrister/solicitor, justice of the peace, foster carer, teacher, one of the minors aged 16-18 who were eligible to be heard this time or a victim of domestic violence who has been rehomed for safety, your voice could be excluded from the process because you do not want your address to be in the public domain?

“This is all wrong and unfair”

As part of the Local Plan examination, the government’s planning inspector will be likely to hold public hearing sessions to discuss the Local Plan.

These public hearings are likely to take place in the New Year.

Following the examination, the inspector will decide whether the Local Plan is ‘sound’ and can be adopted by the council, with or without modifications. The council expects to adopt the Local Plan in 2020.