The Humble Petition of the people of Chester in the County of Cheshire being electors of the Local Authority of Cheshire West and Chester,
Sheweth, that in the process of our new Local Authority of Cheshire West and Chester planning the disposal of its Chester County Hall in a restricted preferential sale to Chester University, and of making a costly move of its Chester headquarters, on a leasehold agreement, to the new so called ‘HQ Building’ beside Chester racecourse, the local community has found itself excluded throughout from any meaningful consultation over the plan with Council; and has additionally been denied essential information prior to the completion of the scheme, and subsequent to it, that we are certain we should have been entitled to know.
Sheweth, that this failure by our local authority to consult with its people over this planning matter is in conflict with the legislative requirements and advisory guidance issued by Parliament in the form of, for example, the publication ‘Communities in Control-real people, real power’, and the ‘Action for Empowerment’ and ‘Duty to Involve’ white papers stating a statutory duty for all councils to engage fully and from an early stage with the public over such matters; and that this behaviour towards its public by Cheshire West and Chester Council is, in addition, in conflict with its own published ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ and the operative interim and draft forms of its ‘Sustainable Community Strategy’.
Sheweth in addition the validity of this most respectful submission by dutifully reminding this House of the relevance of and of the UK’s commitment as a full signatory to the ‘European Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters’; this generally being known as ‘The Arhus Agreement’.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House refer our petition to the relevant Select Committee for Communities and Local Government or other body as you deem appropriate requesting that the body review the effectiveness of the said legislation and guidance concerned with the duty to involve provided by this House with reference to the way local authorities are interpreting and operating that legislation and guidance in the public interest and with regard to our legislated rights.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Christine Russell, Official Report, 23 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 216 .]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is aware that a planning application was submitted to Cheshire West and Chester Council in respect of County Hall. He is advised that the application was submitted on 15 September 2009.
Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council are responsible for the day to day planning control in their area, and the Secretary of State cannot comment on the merits or otherwise of any application. The Government’s policy is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of a local planning authority unless it is necessary to do so. This is because local authority Councillors are elected to represent the views of local people and, in the main, it is these Councillors who are in the best position to decide whether a development should go ahead. It is, of course, for local planning authorities to provide whatever justification it may be appropriate to give for their decisions and procedures.
In determining a planning application the local planning authority who have full knowledge of the local circumstances are required to have regard to all material considerations including the development plan, national policies and views expressed by third parties.
The Secretary of State can decide to call-in an application for his own determination if he considers that it raises matters of more than local importance, but his policy is to be very selective about this.
Following the application to the Council, representations were received requesting the Secretary of State to call-in the application but it was considered that the matter did not raise issues of more than local significance and so the matter was left to the Council to determine.