The front-page report ‘Row over redevelopment of football ground rumbles on’ failed to convey a major criticism of Chichester District Council by the Freedom of Information Tribunal.
This was picked up by a national independent lawyers’ website (Panopticon Blog) which titled their summary of this tribunal ruling ‘deficit of democratic engagement’.
This phrase was used by the tribunal as an observation of the way CDC had dealt with the process involved.
The criticism related partly to the fact the proposed housing development on Portfield football ground was on land owned by the council.
Having approved the principle of sale of the land for housing in 2003, there had not been any real opportunity for appraisal by councillors or the public of the environmental cost, highway implications, physical infrastructure costs, etc.
A so-called public consultation in 2007 was a sham.
A scheme was presented, but only the slightest amendments made in response to a large volume of negative comments.
When it came to a planning committee decision at the end of 2009, consideration of financial implications or alternative options was precluded (under planning law) from discussion.
However, it was only at that final planning meeting that it came to light there was an alternative option which had never been allowed to be considered by our elected representatives.
Thirty houses could be built on the Portfield site without the need for a roundabout, moving the river or the loss of trees.
CDC elected members are guardians of land in public ownership on our behalf. Admittedly council officers are employed to give professional advice and guidance to councillors on how they can obtain ‘best value’ for council-owned land. Unfortunately this is often only seen through the lens of best financial value. Environmental, social and other factors are often treated as only of secondary importance.
As councillors seek election or re-election, can we have some assurances our elected representatives will be open and accountable and not be pressured by officer-driven proposals without careful scrutiny and examination, encouraging full consultation with those affected by their decisions.