The White Paper proposes in Paragraph 2.48 under Level 4 that people have the right to be heard in person [for local plans] will be changed. The paper says that the inspectors can now decide at their own discretion what the representations of an opponent could look like. After paragraph 2.53, which is an alternative option to that set out in paragraph 2.48, the paper goes further and suggests deleting any form of the “right to be heard”. The right to be heard in Section 20 of the Planning Act 2004 is the only clear civil right that exists for the individual citizen in the planning process. The law contains the important phrase “in person” to enable a person to appear before an inspector and to exercise other opportunities to question witnesses. As a result, the ability to appear at a public investigation has been replaced by the ability for an inspector to speak to you over the phone or request additional written comments if they so wish. This is not an increase in democratization.
Before the 2004 Act, the right to be heard in person only for local plans and CPOs, not structural plans. That was the distinction between public inquiries and public exams. With the legislative reforms of 2004, EiPs should be introduced for local plans. Under pressure from Parliament, Lord Falconer introduced Section 20 – it failed.
There is nothing in representative democracy that implies a right to be heard. Indeed, they are intended to limit and abolish the right to be heard so that decisions can be made in a timely manner and discussed by a reasonable number of people. If you want to have a say, you have a right to your MPs or you belong to a lobby group that works directly for you. There are other models of democracy – such as direct democracy, where there is a right to be heard. They work well for neighborhood plans and local plans. These don’t scale well for important decisions that thousands of people want to have a say in. Now, instead of opening and closing EiPs in a week, they can sometimes take years (although there are many reasons why).
So all this talk about losing democracy – let’s call a spade a spade – is nonsense. If your model of democracy is a representative democracy, it will be more democratized by ensuring that people’s will to make strategic decisions – such as building more housing – goes against attempts to block those decisions by a wealthy minority who oppose the Resists development and uses legal blocking tactics. Planning reform must mean that local Plan-EiPs take weeks, not years. It is a “poor right” in that it seldom changes anything and is a weak vehicle for purely negative engagement. That must mean reform so that they become tests by consulting the bodies for which they were originally intended. Hearing dozens of people making the exact same point has been done thousands of times in writing. How is this democracy?
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