Shropshire Council must demonstrate greater democracy as housing consultation kicks off

With Shropshire Council due to open its next round of consultation on the county’s housing need today (November 29 2018), one local campaigning group is using it as a platform to call for greater democracy.

The Shropshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has long questioned the validity of figures used by Shropshire Council to justify its call for increasingly high numbers of new homes in the coming years.  This next stage of consultation will look specifically at the preferred sites for development and as Charles Green, spokesperson for the CPRE in Shropshire explains, only with a greater appreciation of the meaning of ‘democracy’ can the council ever truly appreciate the needs and views of the people:

“Given that we’re supposed to live within a democracy, Shropshire Council seems to have forgotten about the ‘power vested in the collective will of the people’ aspect that should go hand in hand with that. 

“Yes, we are given the opportunity to have a direct say on important decisions via the process of ‘consultations’ and the theory goes that once asked what we think, those in power should listen and then adapt plans accordingly and quite simply that’s not happening when it comes to housing plans in Shropshire.”

The CPRE has questioned for many years whether Shropshire Council’s approach to consultations is anything more than a box-ticking exercise carried out simply for the benefit of saying it has been completed.   Charles Green continues:

“Since early 2017, Shropshire Council has run a series of consultations on its Local Plan Review and with the third of these about to start, I am seriously questioning the value that the Council has placed on those that have been carried to date. 

“Following its first consultation in 2017, the Council published a summary which suggested 47% of respondents supported ‘moderate growth’, yet when the findings were summarised for a Cabinet meeting later that same year, the results were conveyed as showing ‘a slight preference for the ‘moderate’ growth option, but also a good level of support for ‘high’ levels of housing growth.’  That is, I believe, a spinning of the facts which was further exacerbated when at the next stage, the Council went for the highest option of 28,750 new homes. 

“After lodging a formal request, we were granted access to the actual figures and on closer examination, these in fact showed that at the first consultation, 88% of members of the public and 74% of Town and Parish Councils preferred the lowest growth option – quite a stark contrast to the message released by Shropshire Council!”

The CPRE in Shropshire has demonstrated intense opposition to Shropshire Council’s interpretation of the consultation results and when it has questioned the reported figures, responses have included that ‘a consultation is not a referendum’; and that ‘responses are weighed both against specific comments made, and against existing and emerging evidence’.

Charles Green concludes:

“Shropshire Council has repeatedly demonstrated the ease with which it’s prepared to ignore consultation results, and when coupled with the fact that it has previously included multiple responses from certain parties, thus skewing the results, you really do need to question the extent to which it approaches this important vehicle of the democratic process with honour and integrity.

“That is why, as we approach this next important round, I am calling on the people of Shropshire to ensure this process doesn’t become the sham that previous rounds have proven themselves to be.  Simply, if you care about the proposed housing that could appear right on your doorstep in the coming years, take part in the consultation (29th November - 31st January) and let’s make sure that consultation and democracy can work in harmony.”