Our previous article on the alterations proposed by the Council to Hove Library, Destructive Alterations to the Listed Hove library described how they would severely compromise the most important characteristic of its internal design – which is the radiating layout of bookshelves within the semi-circular plan of the library. This almost unique layout is one of the main reasons for the building’s Grade 2 listing.
Despite 12 objections being received for its planning application, The Council has refused to take into account 8 of these objections, including the objection lodged by the Brighton Society and that of Councillor Andrew Wealls, within whose ward the Library is situated.
The Council argues that only 4 objections were received by the cut off date of January 5th, which it claims represented the end of the consultation period.
If there are less than 5 objections to a planning application, this allows the Council to decide the application under delegated powers – in other words the Council Officers make the decision and it doesn’t have to go to the Planning Committee.
However the Conservation Advisory Group only met to consider the application on 9 January. It recommended refusal. There was no way its view could have been given within the Council’s imposed deadline of 5 January.
So – if one takes the generous view that CAG’s recommendation has at least the equivalent value of a single objection from the public, that makes 5 objections – which would be the number required for it to go to the Planning Committee.
In view of this, the Council’s interpretation of the situation is unprecedented, unnecessarily strict – and quite unfair. One might also describe it as extremely undemocratic. It also of course means that Councillors themselves are denied the opportunity to debate the planning application at committee.
There are other relevant issues to be considered too:
Firstly, the decision to impose the cut-off date so early takes no account of the fact that the consultation period coincided with the Christmas/New Year period when most people are busy with other commitments. The fact that 8 of the 12 objections were lodged after 5 January reinforces that view.
Secondly, the planning application was made by the Council for the Council. Applicant and judge at the same time.
Thirdly, if it were really necessary to close the consultation period particularly early, why was a notice confirming the end date of the consultation process not posted on the Council website, as required by clause (7)3(c) of the Town and Country Planning (Development Procedure) (England) Order 2015?
All it said on the Public Notice posted on the lamp post outside the Library on 8 Dec was 21 days from that date. Yet the application didn’t appear on the Council website until 3 days later. And because of the 3 public holidays during the consultation period 24 days should have been be allowed, not 21 – but from when? 8 Dec? 11 Dec? All very confusing.
In our experience it is unprecedented for the Council to close the consultation period after 21 days. This strict interpretation makes it extremely difficult for amenity societies, such as the Brighton Society, which generally meet about once a month, to discuss and respond to planning applications within a 21 day consultation period.
Fourthly, no local residents were notified of the planning application, meaning that very few people would have been aware that the application had even been lodged prior to Christmas.
Taking into account all of these considerations, it appears to us that the Council is acting like the worst form of private developer. One of its duties as a Council is to regulate the private sector in the public interest. In this case the Council is acting purely in its own narrow interest, and ignoring the stated views and objections made by the public.
The whole point of public consultation is to promote a basis of trust between the Council and the community it serves. The way in which the consultation process has been handled in relation to this application will have precisely the opposite effect.
As both applicant and landowner, and as it is pronouncing in judgement over its own application, one would expect that the Council would be extra careful to respond sensitively to the consultation process, and listen and take into account the views of the community in relation to an important public facility like Hove Library.
And even more importantly, as the custodian of the city’s listed buildings and Heritage, the Council also has a duty of care to protect the qualities of those listed buildings – including those which it owns itself. In this case particularly so, when one of the main reasons for the listing is the fan-shaped ground floor layout which this planning application – if carried out – will severely prejudice.
The Council should be setting an example of high standards to the private sector both in its commitment to preserving and enhancing the city’s heritage assets, and its commitment to the principle of public consultation.
How can it possibly have any credibility if it acts in such an arrogant, high-handed manner in relation to a listed heritage asset and an important library facility of city-wide importance for which it is responsible?