The full Suffolk Coastal District Council met last night to approve the Final Draft Local Plan and they duly voted their approval! It would not be unreasonable to attribute bluster, buffoonery or blatant deception to several District Councillors present at the meeting. I know many KATCAG supporters were outraged by what took place and were particularly incensed by provocative statements aimed at those demonstrating, who had no right of reply. A Chairperson who clearly favoured speakers for the Plan, as opposed to those against, added fuel to the fire.
For our part, KATCAG are going to ignore the Council’s behavioural shortcomings, as they are unimportant in the overall scale of things. In general, we noted what took place, as follows:
1. We never expected more than 1 or 2 Councillors to vote against the Plan. Our purpose had been to demonstrate the anger triggered by the Council and to ensure media awareness. In the event, 23 Councillors voted in favour, but 8 voted against, plus 2 abstentions. 23 / 10 is a very hollow victory for SCDC. Whilst our focus must remain on the ‘soundness’ shortcomings of the Plan (of which there appear to be many), the significance of SCDC’s rather limp majority may well send a strong message to an examining authority.
2. This is particularly the case when consideration is given to how District Councillors were ‘blackmailed’ into approving the Plan. On behalf of the Council. Councillor Tony Fryatt, pleaded for approval, suggesting any failure to approve the Plan would leave the Council wide open to the antics of predatory developers. We wonder just how many Councillors would have voted against the Plan were it not for this perceived threat – a lot more, one might speculate!
3. We were unsurprised by Councillor Fryatt failing to make clear the present situation is the direct result of his personal failure, as well as that of his colleagues. Had they complied, in 2013, with the Inspector’s requirement to produce an Objectively Assessed Needs Analysis by 2015, it is unlikely the Grove, Felixstowe would have been sacrificed to the 2000 home development currently being built. Councillor Fryatt’s legacy is not one to be proud of!
4. This said, there was a wide acknowledgement the overall housing requirement is being driven by central government policy and any consideration of local need is a thing of the past. Councillor Fryatt posed the question “what else do you expect us to do?” Well, we’ll tell him in due course, but we do acknowledge his past activities and those of his colleagues have led to a dire situation. It will need people far smarter than he appears to be to provide us with a solution. We know the right people and will be listening to them carefully over the coming weeks.
5. The 67 Hectares SCDC wants to gobble up at Innocence Farm was given a limited amount of ‘air time’, but not a lot! We think we know why this topic was “glossed over” but we’re not unduly concerned. We continue to believe SCDC will be unable to justify their requirement for any further employment land, when challenged at the Inspector’s Hearing. We’re not simply saying this - we have good reason to do so!
6. Following the meeting, we have been contacted by District Councillors ashamed of the outcome, which brings us to the key question, WHAT NEXT?
Well, several things:
1. We see no reason to depart from our current strategy of dismantling the Evidence Base, in preparation for the Inspector’s Hearing in June. More things of significance are unearthed daily and we will not let up with our efforts.
2. In the short-term, the Steering Group acknowledges it has no monopoly of wisdom and we think it time to hold an open forum with our KATCAG Champions, together with any other people who feel they could possibly become more involved. We want to give people the chance to ask about the actions we have taken to date, what we are proposing and why. We also wish to sound out our ideas for a fund-raising strategy. Barristers and Planning Consultants do not come cheap!
3. We think the time has come to launch a political initiative aimed at securing each SCDC ward on 2nd May, 2019. We do not have much time to organise this but, with your help, we feel we have enough. This said, we are mindful several District Councillors demonstrated both integrity and reason at the Plan Approval meeting and we think it would be wrong to seek to replace them. We are meeting with one or two such Councillors in the coming week and should be able to announce the launch of this initiative at the KATCAG Champions meeting on 9th January. A Facebook announcement will be posted the following day.