Call for crunch meeting on East Wittering development to be delayed
A crunch meeting about plans for 70 homes in East Wittering should be delayed until social distancing restrictions are lifted further, campaigners have argued.
Chichester District Council’s planning committee is due to discuss an application for land to the west of Church Road on Wednesday (June 9).
However concerns have been raised by campaigners opposing the development about the limits on both the number of people who can speak in objection and those able to attend in person to watch proceedings.
Melissa Smith, leading the Stand up for the Witterings campaign, has written to council officers expressing concerns that the process outlined for the meeting ‘is anything but democratic with people not being allowed to attend or speak’.
She added: “With over 260 objections to this application on the CDC portal, how can democracy be practiced when only three objections can be heard that are also chosen based on the date they were received and not on merit?
“This meeting would normally draw a great deal of interest from the public who would like to attend and have their opinions heard.
“Why has the council called this meeting so suddenly? Surely it would make sense to delay this and follow normal democratic protocol.
“The community and parishes should have the opportunity to air their views and this is not possible under current conditions, we therefore ask that this meeting is delayed until the correct and democratic process can be followed and openness and transparency restored.”
In response, a spokesman for CDC said: “From this month, we are required by law to hold some of our public council meetings in person. The safety of our staff, councillors and visitors is our top priority and so we have introduced a range of additional measures to make our committee meeting spaces Covid-secure for face-to-face meetings. These measures include additional spacing; screens between tables; and a change to the layout of the room, amongst other things.
“Unfortunately, in order to make sure our in-person meetings are safe for everyone, audience places need to be limited.
“However, it’s important to point out that all decisions are made in the usual way and that we continue to follow the same rules around how many people can make comments about planning applications and how residents can voice their concerns or comments in writing.
“We have looked at potential alternative venues but the most suitable location is the council’s committee rooms, where we have full control of the environment so that the meetings are run safely.
“To ensure transparency for the public and to enable residents to follow meetings safely from home, we have reintroduced live audio-streams so that people can still follow these meetings as they happen.
“The recordings will also remain available online for anyone to access at any time. We’d like to reassure people that we are closely monitoring the situation. When further coronavirus restrictions are eased, we hope to be able to welcome more people back to participate in our public meetings in person.
“In the meantime, details of all our public meetings can be found on our website at: https://chichester.moderngov.co.uk/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1 where people can also access audio streams of all of our in person meetings and video streams of all of our remote public meetings.
“We understand that some people might prefer to delay meetings but unfortunately we are under a duty to hold meetings within the time limits set by the Planning Acts.
“Until the Government confirms that restrictions to public meetings can be removed, we will have to work to those requirements in the same way that hospitality venues, such as pubs and cinemas, continue to be required to amend their practices.
“Whilst there are changes to keep everyone as safe as possible, the council will therefore have to hold meetings that have been notified to the public, and manage those meetings thoughtfully within the national guidance.”
The Manhood Peninsula, particularly East Wittering Bracklesham, Earnley and Birdham has seen multiple applications for housing submitted recently.
For more on the campaign visit its website.