Complaints received after public ejected from gallery at planning meeting

Thursday, 10 March 2022 19:58

By Jessica Hubbard - Local Democracy Reporter

At least 15 complaints have been received about a planning meeting held by Adur District Council earlier this month.

The council confirmed it had received the complaints following a meeting on March 2, when the redevelopment scheme for the former Civic Centre site, in Shoreham, was approved.

The public gallery was packed as Hyde Homes’ plans to build 159 apartments on the site were heard.

Original plans for 171 flats in buildings up to 11 storeys tall were amended following consultation and the maximum block height is now nine storeys.

Groaning, clapping and laughter from the public gallery caused chair Stephen Chipp (Con, Southwick Green) to ask the public to leave the room before reconvening the meeting.

Mr Chipp has reserved comment until the complaints procedure is concluded. A spokesperson for Adur District Council confirmed that all of the 15 complaints are ‘currently being considered’.

“The planning meeting to discuss the development of the former Civic Centre in Shoreham was very well attended by members of the public, and featured passionate representations both for and against the scheme,” the spokesperson said.

“On several occasions, members of the public disrupted the meeting at the Shoreham Centre and the chair of the committee had to ask for quiet, and warned that he would be forced to hold the debate without the presence of the public if there were further disruptions.

“Unfortunately, despite the chair’s numerous requests, the meeting continued to be disrupted by members of the public.

“The chair therefore reluctantly used his constitutional power to require the public to leave the room and the debate was then concluded.”

Delivery of the 100 per cent affordable housing promised by Hyde, the felling of a poplar tree, planting, flood risk, levels of parking, and the height of the development all proved sticking points.

These were ultimately not considered as valid planning reasons to refuse or defer the scheme. But the decision has since been criticised by several opposition councillors.

Committee member Jeremy Gardner (Lab, St Mary’s) argued that parking and the potential ‘negative effect’ on the streetscape ‘were valid planning objections’.

Catherine Arnold (Lab, St Mary’s) said: “My issues are threefold: the quality of build and affordability from this developer, the fact that questions still remain on the site’s drainage, and whether planting trees there, as the developer suggests, can be successful.

“It is formerly the site of Adur District Council buildings and local people should have a democratic say on what happens with this land.

“What happened last week when local people were asked to leave the meeting and the decision to approve this proposal was made by the casting vote of the meeting’s chair, was far from democratic accountability.”

Labour group leader Lee Cowen added: “We could have found a much better way to build social housing on this site by partnering with a developer and keeping hold of the site – now it’s gone forever.

“It’s to the credit of the members of the planning committee who at a pre-meeting argued for a reduction in the height of the block, however it’s still going to be overbearing.”

Green councillor Gabe Crisp (St Nicolas) said: “Nearly 200 people turned out to protest about the proposed development at the ex-Civic Centre site in Shoreham.

“They were not protesting about the principle of building new homes for families without a roof over their heads, they were protesting that the wishes of local people have been ignored.

“Elected councillors like myself, who were part of the audience, were ushered out alongside over 100 concerned residents.

“We were unable to hear the discussion or watch the final decision as we stood on the street, in shock at our expulsion.

“It is a travesty of democratic accountability that a decision so significant can be made on a chair’s casting vote without the public being present when so many uncertainties remain.”

During the meeting a Hyde Homes representative confirmed that 25 trees would be planted – though a council engineer has questioned if this will be possible due to underground water storage.

The spokesperson also pointed out that developer contributions total in excess of half a million pounds which will go towards funding local services.

Writing on Facebook, Andy McGregor (Con, Widewater), who sat on the planning committee as a substitute member, said: “It is fabulous that so many residents took an interest in this meeting.

“The public are there to witness the democratic process in action, they are not there to attempt to influence that process from the public gallery by cheering or jeering or with foul mouthed abuse. “The [planning committee] have only the power to approve, reject or defer an application.

“They have no power to change an application, they do have the power to impose conditions.”

Mr McGregor added that rejecting the application could have led to a planning appeal which, if unsuccessful, would end up being paid for by Adur taxpayers.

He also called out ‘speculation and misinformation’ about the scheme on social media.

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