PUBLIC consultation and engagement in relation to the Cotswold Draft Local Plan has been slated during the opening exchanges of an examination period to decide whether to adopt the plan as it stands.

Patrick Moylan, of campaign group Save Our Cirencester (SOC), speaking at the first hearing of the examination on Tuesday, called the consultation “unsound” because it had failed to properly involve the public.

“Although the council may have ticked some boxes, they did not have an effective consultation,” he said.

Mr Moylan is one of 25 councillors, consultants and members of the public to have been selected for the public hearing panel chaired by independent planning inspector William Fieldhouse.

SOC was formed in 2015 in opposition to the 2,350-home development proposed for Chesterton, which was developed as a strategic site to take much of the district’s housing quota.

“My main concern is the Chesterton development,” said Mr Moylan.

“It’s a major factor of the Local Plan. You’ve mentioned national policy, you’ve mentioned early engagement, for neighbourhoods to be involved. Creating a common vision. I feel the plan hasn’t done that and is therefore unsound.”

He said despite the Local Plan having been in development for “the best part of 10 years”, it “remained a well-kept secret from the public” until around 2012.

“It was discussed with various councillors, district councillors, town councillors, parish councillors, but it didn’t become a feature of the public.”

By the time “public consultation got ramped up a bit, but not very effectively”, he said, “it was too late. The plan had been decided.

“There was no chance of the Local Plan, certainly the proposal for Chesterton, of being changed.

“Indeed, over the period from 2013 until now it has hardly been changed.

“My point is, in terms of consultation, in terms of effective collective vision, agreeing priorities and so on, the public had no say in that at all,” he said.

He went on to say, the whole process lacked “visibility” and was “difficult for people to understand” while the language used “didn’t engage their attention”.

In response, James Brain, Cotswold District Council’s (CDC) forward planning manager, said public consultation began during the core strategy phases, as early as 2008.

However, he did admit that the number of public representations jumped from around a thousand to almost 10,000 after the early core strategy stage had ended, while some of the language in that period was “clunky”.

“There are a number of non-submitted supporting documents, which inform about the core elements,” he said.

“We submitted them to emphasise the level of engagement and the amount of work that was undertaken through the core strategy phases.”

This was followed by various rounds of consultation once the draft Local Plan had begun to be drawn up, which, he said resulted in “additional changes as a result of consultation responses”.

Mr Fieldhouse then asked when the “idea of extending Cirencester first came about?”

“Obviously, in planning and policy terms it made sense, but where did it fit in, in terms of a public response?”

Mr Brain said: “The authority has a commitment to try and find an appropriate strategy, to try and deliver it. Chesterton, as it appears, is the most sustainable of those options.

“The strategy is about the extension of Cirencester, the focus on our principle settlements. We believe that’s the most sustainable and logical approach in the Cotswolds, because of the constraints present in the district. But not only that, we believe it’s the most deliverable option in terms of supply that we have to try and achieve.”

He went on to say, that the council use “social media, press, focus groups, whatever it is that we can, to get the message out” in regard to consultation periods.

“Although it hasn’t got the outcome that Mr Moylan would prefer, I think it is a step too far to say we haven’t consulted in an appropriate manner,” he added.

The examination sessions are taking place at the CDC offices on Trinity Road in Cirencester until at least November 23.

After the examination period, Mr Fieldhouse will draw up a report with any modifications he feels are necessary before CDC members vote on whether or not to adopt the Local Plan.

Once formally adopted, the plan will be in place until 2031.

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