St Helens Council is standing its ground after it was challenged over the accuracy of information it provided to residents regarding the Local Plan.
Back in February the council held a publication consultation to allow members of the public to comment on the ‘submission draft’ version of the St Helens Local Plan, prior to it being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for examination by an independent inspector.
Since then, the Planning Inspectorate has published practical guidance on the procedural aspects of the examination of local plans.
St Helens Council sought legal advice before writing to residents to inform them of the implications of the new guidance.
Residents who made representations were told the council intended to publish the names and addresses of respondents on its website.
While residents can request to have this information redacted, the council said it would be “unlikely” anonymous representations would be considered by the government’s planning inspector.
However, a number of interested parties, including St Helens Green councillor David van der Burg, contacted the Planning Inspectorate for further clarity.
The Planning Inspectorate said that, while names and addresses should be made available to the planning inspector, there is no necessity for these details to be published online or elsewhere.
This caused St Helens Council to go back to the Planning Inspectorate for further clarity.
The council and the Planning Inspectorate has now released a joint statement in an attempt to “to aid transparency and accountability” and clear up the matter once and for all.
“The Inspectorate and the council (we) recognise that we are independent data controllers with regard to our respective processing of personal data on the plan and examination of it,” the statement says.
“Each party recognises our own, separate, data controller responsibilities for our processing of personal data in respect of the proposed local plan and examination. We also recognise that the Information Commissioners Office are the regulator of this activity.
“We recognise that our respective processing of information (including the personal data within it) is underpinned by statute.”
The joint statement says regulation 22 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 places obligations on the council to submit representations to the appointed inspector for the purpose of the examination.
It also requires the council to make those representations available, as soon as reasonably practicable, in accordance with regulation 35.
“As the data controller St Helens Council is responsible for ensuring that all parties who engage with the process are adequately informed on the processing of their personal data,” the statement said.
“Councils should ensure that individuals who object to provision of their personal data are made aware of the impact of not supplying that data to the Inspectorate.
“If representation is sent to the Inspectorate and made available in anonymous form this may affect the weight the Inspector is able to provide to the representation and their ability to invite persons to hearing sessions.”
“In terms of the council’s regulation 35 requirements in the interest of natural justice the Inspectorate expects the inspector and public to have access to the same information.
“The council as the data controller has sole responsibility in determining for the processing of any personal data they hold or collect under their statutory duty.”
In an attempt to clear up the situation even further, St Helens Council has released a second statement.
The council confirmed it still intends to publish residents’ names and addresses as it is the only way to be sure their representation will be given the full weight by the planning inspector.
A council spokesman said: “In addition to the statement agreed by the Planning Inspectorate and St Helens Council, and to make the situation clearer, the council can confirm that it has revisited the guidance provided by the Planning Inspectorate and maintains that only those persons whose representations with names and addresses that have been published on the examination website can be certain that their representation will be considered and given full weight by the inspector conducting the examination.
“Where representations have names and addresses that have been redacted, then whilst these will of course be passed to the inspector, it must be recognised that the Inspector may ultimately decide to disregard/give less weight to such representations.”