Discouraging response

I’ve spent much time recently completing my comments on Swindon Borough Council’s Core Strategy. It was pleasing to see that many comments on the earlier draft seemed have been taken into account.

Whilst the council’s officials may be responsive to the comments they receive on their strategies, there seems to have been little effort to make it easy to submit those comments. The online response form remains as poor as last time. And unlike last time where any means, within reason, of submitting comments was accepted, for this final stage of consultation only comments on the official forms were accepted. Unlike a printable form, where one can see what’s coming next, with this online form that’s not possible. So just copying the words from the printable form onto the online form — which is what’s been done in this case — doesn’t work. It was a case of filling in one screen of the form, moving onto the next screen, only to find it asking for something I’d put on the previous screen, resulting in lots of clicking back-and-forth to cut-and-paste material into the right section of the form.

It’s also noticeable that in all their consultations, Swindon Borough Council’s Forward Planning Group give little publicity until the final round of consultation. So in the earlier rounds — where the planning rules allow people to have real influence — there are few comments, with many of those that might have something to say unaware until the final stage where the rules are very restrictive. And the Adver played along with an almost continuous dripdrip of stories based on this version of the Core Strategy, but was almost silent during the earlier rounds, even though the proposals now highlighted were in previous versions of the strategy. It’s good that they’ve covered the story, just unfortunate that they left it so late.

Finally, two predictions for the next round of the process, examination of the strategy by a planning inspector. The first is that the Save Coate campaigners will try to make it a one-topic examination, in much the same way as the New Mechanics Institute did with the Central Area Action Plan. The second is that, like them, they’ll again be unsuccessful.