Gasworks development : BHCC Failures Chapter 6 – Failure to ensure that the Planning Application documents posted on the Planning Portal were clear and properly titled to show the content of each document.
This is the sixth article in our series of ten Chapters on BHCC failures relating to the Gasworks development. Read on……
The first five instalments have already been published on the Brighton Society website. These are:
Chapter 1 : Introduction
Chapter 2 : The attempt to extend the Marina Tall Buildings zone on to the Gasworks site
Chapter 3 : Failure to respond to multiple Freedom of Information requests
Chapter 4 : Failure of both the Council and the Berkeley Group to respond to the Gasworks Coalition’s concerns about the public consultation
Chapter 5 : Failure to comply with the Council’s own rules in validating the planning application
The Planning Application first appeared on the Council’s Planning Portal on Dec 9 2021.
Frankly it was a mess. There were a total of 215 documents including consultants reports, many of them very lengthy. There were 159 of these. The rest were drawings.
Well over 70 of the reports appeared with identical headings which gave no indication of their content. It was impossible to know the subject matter they contained. Even when you opened them up to find out, trying to get back to ones you had just looked at to find a particular document was impossible as you were confronted with a table covering several pages of documents, most of which were untitled, and none of which were numbered.
Below is an example which gives some idea of the problem.
Screenshot of a typical page from the Planning Portal. Lots of documents –all with the same title – no indication of content. There were 61 of these.
The only way we had of organising them was to print out the tables over several pages of documents, then number each document by hand, and manually write in the title. See the examples of the untitled documents in the screenshot below.The Environmental Statement alone consisted of 61 documents.
Having done that and working on the screen, you then had to count down each row, row by row, working down from the first document to find the one you were looking for. That was a lot of counting for 61 documents and it was very time-consuming.
Another point of confusion was that the documents, once you had begun to identify them, weren’t in any particular order. This made it even harder to find your way around the documents. The screenshot below is one of the pages we annotated to help us find our way around the documentation.
The average member of the public would have given up long before getting to this stage.
We were so concerned we wrote the following email on 14 December to the Case Officer.
Dear Mr Swain,
Following the meeting last night of the Gasworks Coalition of 16 Amenity Societies and community groups, I have been asked to write to you on behalf of the Coalition.
We are very concerned about the way that the planning application documents have been displayed on the Council website, and question whether the Council is properly fulfilling its legal duty to inform the public about the information contained within the application in a clear and transparent way.
On behalf of the Brighton Society I have posted two comments on the Council website drawing attention to two application documents in particular, one relating to the Design and Access Statement lodged on 10 December, the other relating to the Environmental Statement Vol.2 on 11 December.
Our concerns are:
1. That the Design and Access Statement had been divided into 16 documents, none of which had any title or gave any indication on the website of the contents of each of those 16 documents. Our comment, which included a breakdown of the topics covered in the D&A Statement, was made in order to help inform the public of the content of those 16 documents.
2. The situation got even worse when we looked at the Environmental Statement Vol.2. This document has been cut up into 61 sections, not a single one of which gives any indication of its contents. This makes it virtually impossible to be able quickly and easily to find and view the content of all the 61 documents without spending an enormous amount of time.
Even we, who are used to trawling through planning applications, found it confusing and inconsistent. How Joe Public will be able to navigate his or her way through this impenetrable arrangement is beyond us.
As with the D & A Statement, I made a comment on the Council website drawing attention to this problem and providing as best I could, some sort of guide for the public to use to see what information was included in each of those 61 sections. But even armed with this information, you still have to print off the list of documents from the website, then hand annotate the list of documents 1-61, before then manually counting down the list of the 61 documents on the website on your screen, in order to find and view the one you are looking for. Frankly it’s unacceptably difficult – particularly for most members of the general public.
This comment was dated 11 Dec and is currently the top document/comment on the list of Planning application documents.
In that comment, I noted that there appeared to be some pages of Env. Statement Vol.2 that were missing. We have subsequently discovered where they were. They are in document No.60. Confusingly, documents 22 to 59 contain generally between 1 to 4 pages showing views of the site from various viewpoints 1-36, though quite why some contain only one page and others a few more is not at all clear. The situation is made even more confusing because many pages between the images are “intentionally left blank”.
When you get to document 60 you find two images followed by one of these blank pages. What is confusing is that after trawling through the previous 37 documents with just a few pages for each at most, you almost by accident suddenly discover that in document 60 the third page “intentionally left blank” conceals behind it, about 20 more pages of text containing the Assessment against Policy and Guidance related to Views, Conclusion and Visual Effects, Listed and non-Listed Buildings and Structures, Lists of views, Appendix 1 – Listed Buildings Descriptions, and pp 238-239 – Appendix 3.
It is totally and bizarrely inconsistent and confusing.
We note that since we made our comment some – but not all – of the 16 separate Design and Access Statement documents appear to have had titles added. They weren’t there on Friday when I posted our comment. See the screenshot below for the current situation.
Is it therefore also the Council’s intention to add titles to the 61 anonymous documents forming the Environmental Statement Vol.2? If so, how long will that take? Will that task be completed before this Friday 17 December when the 35 day consultation period begins?
Are there any other application documents to which titles need to be added? We haven’t had time to look at any others yet.
We are also concerned that the Article 15 Public Notice has the wrong closing date – it states that the consultation period ends 35 days after 10 December, whereas Elizabeth Culbert has confirmed it will start on 17 December not the 10th. We understand some public notices have already started to be posted around the site. Will these now be replaced with ones giving the correct date?
But equally concerning is the question of whether the information and documentation on the Council website will be clarified and up-dated by then, if that is the Council’s intention? If it is, then the consultation period should not begin until all the information on the Council website is present and correct.
It rather looks to us as though this whole process is turning into a fiasco of major proportions. Wouldn’t it be best just to stop the whole thing until all these issues are sorted out?
I’m forwarding a copy of this email to Elizabeth Culbert [the Council’s Legal Advisor] because we suspect there may be legal implications if this whole affair is not handled properly.
And finally we have one more concern at the moment. All the Coalition Groups will be making their own objections in due course.
We note that the Council currently appears not to identify the origin of comments made by the general public – only those made by by Statutory Consultees. We are aware that the reason is because of GDPR and is designed to respect and maintain the privacy of objectors. We have previously criticised this policy – here is the link: https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/council-redaction-policy-is-vulnerable-to-abuse/.
But the problem for amenity societies such ours and those 15 others comprising the Gasworks Coalition, is that we want to be identified with our objections so that the wider public can easily find and see what we, as responsible societies, have to say about issues which affect them and the city in which they live.
We request therefore that the Council identify our objections on the Council website when they are lodged in due course.
Chairman, Brighton Society
This is a screenshot several days into the consultation period. The Council was belatedly beginning to identify some of the documents…..
As a consequence of the Council’s failure to properly identify the documents lodged with the planning application, the yellow public notices were posted on lamp posts etc too soon, before the problem was realised. It took up to a week to carry out a few improvements to the information on the Planning Portal. But there were still lots of documents that were still completely unidentified in terms of content.
In the meantime the local residents had been informed by the yellow Public Notices distributed around the area that the consultation period would end on 14 January 2022.
We heard later that this had been extended by a week – to the 21 January. But the yellow notices were not updated. Many residents didn’t know about it and may well have been dissuaded from objecting because there was too little time for them to do so, particularly as the consultation period coincided with the Christmas New Year holiday period.
This failure, together with the confusion caused by the inadequate classification of the planning documentation, and the (deliberate?) timing of the planning application just before the Christmas New Year holiday period – and this for one of the largest and most complex planning applications in the city in recent years – leads one seriously to question whose interests the Council regards as most important – the residents – or the developer which it appears to have been colluding with against the public interest?