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Havant campaigners hit out at ‘gobbledegook’ consultation for borough’s 10,000-home local plan

Published in the Portsmouth News on the 5th March 2019
Story by Byron Melton

CAMPAIGNERS say a consultation form for a council’s local plan is so user-unfriendly it is leaving swathes of people with valuable views ‘disenfranchised’. 

Residents have until 5pm on Monday, March 18 to have their say on the soundness of Havant Borough Council’s 10,000-home local plan before it is sent off to government. 

But activists and residents’ association bosses have branded the authority’s 13-step reply form ‘extremely frustrating’ – fearing it could put people off replying at all.

On its website the council says all views ‘must be made on the consultation response form’, an editable PDF, which is available to download alongside a guidance form. 

Havant Civic Society chairman Bob Comlay, a retired IT architect, said the form is ‘very prescriptive’.

‘An awful lot of people are unfamiliar with editable PDFs, which is a problem here, and we are disenfranchising some of those people by not allowing standard written responses,’ he said. ‘The way it’s laid out, people will be put off.’

To have their say, residents must download and save the form, open it with PDF viewing software, fill it in, re-save it, then email it to policy.design@havant.gov.uk.

But much of this process, says Havant Friends of the Earth chairman Ray Cobbett, will come as ‘gobbledegook’ to people who aren’t tech-savvy.

‘We have no problem with the questions, they are set out by the inspectorate,’ he said.

‘The main area of complaint from what I hear is the process. Most of this is gobbledegook to people who aren’t tech-savvy.’

He added: ‘It could have been a lot more resident-friendly.’

Anne Skennerton, chairwoman of Hayling Island Residents’ Association, said she has ‘spent hours’ taking calls and emails from people who were confused about the form.

In not providing paper copies of its local plan, or the consultation form for it, she said the council has ‘effectively reduced the comments that could’ve been made’. 

The authority will run two drop-in sessions this week to help people complete the form – from 3pm until 7pm on Wednesday at the Havant Public Service Plaza, and 11am until 4pm on Saturday at the Waterlooville Community Centre.

Councillor Leah Turner, cabinet lead for communities, development and housing said: ‘This consultation is the first part of the examination of the plan by the Planning Inspectorate.

‘The form that we are using for this is based on the template provided by the Planning Inspectorate and is used across the country.’

She added: ‘We have received some feedback from residents who have already taken part in this examination.

‘In listening to these comments, we are currently in the process of providing another format that can be opened and completed in word processing software alongside the PDF version. This will be on our website in the next day or so.’

Click this link to access the Local Plan consultation form,

Click this link to see the council’s guidance on how to fill it in

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