WALSALL: Black Country Plan consultation a “sham”
A consultation on the future of precious Green Belt land in Walsall and the Black Country has been branded “over-complicated” and a “sham”.
Walsall Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz said the communication – which ends on Monday (October 11) – on the draft Black Country Plan and how to respond to it had been poor and called for an extension.
In a letter to Walsall Council leader Mike Bird, Councillor Nawaz said he was concerned people could become disenfranchised as a result when green space is lost in future.
But an authority spokesman said there could be no extension as the timescales had been agreed by all four Black Country authorities. They added there would be a further chance for the public to air views next summer.
In Walsall, it is proposed enough land to build an extra 13,344 new houses and 164 hectares of employment land be provided up to 2039.
Of this 5,418 homes and 47 hectares of employment land will be provided on land currently classed as Green belt.
Councillor Nawaz said: “The communication of this plan and the communication on how to add to the consultation has been extremely poor and over complicated meaning that many are unaware of it and many are unable to respond.
“I am afraid if the consultation is not extended that our residents throughout the borough will be disenfranchised and this consultation will be seen as no more than a sham.
“It is vital that public confidence is maintained during such consultations and it is my view that the public in Walsall has no or very little confidence that this consultation has been open, transparent or sufficient.
“As a member of the planning committee I will reserve my judgement on specific applications to when they come in front of the committee.
“However I am nevertheless very concerned that the impact on the greenbelt will be irreversible, damaging to the well being of our communities, disastrous to the local ecology and will wipe out many endangered species.
“The impact of the plan, if accepted, has the potential to change our borough permanently in a negative way. Once our Greenbelt is lost we will not be
able to bring it back.
“We cannot be in a position where our residents feel, as many do, that this
consultation is either pre judged by those who are in charge or that they have not had the opportunity to have their say.
“We need to listen to those that have elected us and put trust in us to do the right thing. We must allow our residents to be given the time to have their say.
“In addition to this I do feel that it would be appropriate, respectful and responsible to send out a letter to every household so that they can be directed to the plan and be empowered to respond.
A spokesperson at Walsall Council said: “We have consulted extensively with the borough on the Draft Black Country Plan. It meets the statutory requirements for publicity on Development Plans and our consultation ran for eight weeks rather than the statutory six, so that people had a longer time to respond. It is not possible to extend this further – as this time scale was already agreed by all four Black Country Authorities, Leaders and their Cabinets.”
“The Plan was shared widely via the Walsall Council web site and its digital media channels. Flyers and summary documents were displayed in Walsall libraries, the Arboretum Visitor Centre, Leather Museum, Art Gallery, Forest Arts, Leisure Centres, Goscote Greenacres and our Registry office.”
“We also communicated the information through press releases, local radio and legal notices. Hard copies of the Plan’s summary document and response form were sent to our Elected Members to ensure that residents in all wards had access to it. In support of this, four drop in sessions were also well attended by the public.”
“There will be a further opportunity for the public to engage during a consultation on the Draft Publication Plan next summer. This will help address any feedback comments around the Plan and its consultation methods.”
People can take part in the consultation at https://blackcountryplan.dudley.gov.uk/
Words: Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter
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