LETTER: Councillors are holding secret meetings

I SPOKE before the Arun development control committee in opposition to proposed alterations to a 1953 three-bed house in Craigweil House conservation area.

I chair the 200-strong Conservation Association (CHECAA). There were 11 councillors sitting plus the chairman and vice-chairman and a planning officer in Littlehampton Town Hall.

We had manifold difficulties with this application. Conservation Area Law requires that development must ‘preserve or enhance’ the ‘character or appearance of the area or its setting’.

CHECAA contended this extension would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area and damaging to the street scene of the Craigweil Private Estate.

Speakers are always clearly visible and facing the decision maker or instructor. Court witnesses are just a few feet away from the judge and jury who wish to study and hear the evidence and the way in which it is delivered – facial expressions can tell all!

In front of me sat six councillors out of the 11 in a line with their backs to me. Not one faced me or any other speaker.

The other five were at right angles to the left and most could not see me for we all sat at the same level. This disrespectful treatment was meted out to all speakers that day.

The interests of justice were ignored and that is shameful. One member explained that she attended Arun’s conservation area advisory committee (CAAC) which had discussed this application, supporting it, without reasons.

Details of the activities of CAAC have been refused CHECAA for years, yet this mysterious, secret society still operates within our ‘open and transparent’ council.

Recently, I asked to attend a meeting, but was refused.

The public are not admitted! Parish and district councillors sit on it with ‘surveyors, engineers and architects’ – and they give reports to planning councillors, on applications in conservation areas.

Yet, no agendas, minutes or papers are ever released.

Arun’s Conservation Officer advises CAAC, but all this is secret – it is the power within which carries great influence.

We find this very disturbing for there should be no place for secret committees and reports within the planning process which affects all our lives.

CAACs exist throughout the country and elsewhere agendas, minutes, and names and addresses of members are published on websites.

Attendance at meetings and membership of committees is invited, but this secrecy in Arun by so many for so long creates suspicion – we have a secret committee behind the planning committee and that cannot be ‘healthy’ for democracy!

Richard Ostler

The Drive