SCGB remonstrates with Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State over the announcement that the Examination in Public (EiP) of SODC’s Local Plan is to be held digitally using Microsoft Teams, and to begin on July 14th.
The following email has been sent to Jenrick and the Planning Inspectorate, co-signed by Culham Parish Council, Nuneham Courtenay Parish Council and Clifton Hampden Parish Council. The parishes of The Baldons and Sandford are sending their own letters as are other campaign groups.
29th May 2020
To: Rt Hon. Robert Jenrick, MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Community and Local Government
Culham Parish Council finds the requirement for South Oxfordshire District Council to hold its Examination in Public digitally/electronically to be demonstrably undemocratic for the following reasons:
1.. It disenfranchises many people – including the elderly and young – who cannot afford and/or do not have computers; or lack the technical ability.
- Many people who do have computers do not have sufficient broadband width to hold online discussions, let alone lengthy ones and are prioritizing use of the internet for their children’s schooling needs.
- Likewise, some people who do have computers do not have operating systems that easily accept software such as Microsoft Teams which has been one of the platforms indicated / or are unfamiliar with the installation and operation of the necessary video-conferencing software.
- Video-conferencing is still fraught with connectivity issues when many people from the same area all using the internet at the same time. Consistent sound is also a huge problem.
- Telephone representation has also been proposed as an alternative for some. This is not an adequate alternative to face-to-face conversation.
Simply stated, too many obstacles are put in our way.
Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly:
- Many people are too busy/preoccupied with other matters connected with the WORLDWIDE health and economic disaster that Covid-19 has presented us with, including:
6.a) preoccupation with home-schooling
- b) caring for elderly relatives or neighbours
- c) redundancies and financial hardship
- d) mental stress
Culham Parish Council also finds it unreasonable for MHCLG to be keeping SODC to the deadline of December 2020 for adoption, requiring the EiP to be held in a matter of just weeks when the Inspector’s Matters and Issues and Guidance has only been issued this week.
Quite apart from all of the above:
- Villages, parishes and campaign groups are unable to undertake fund raising for professional and legal representation; it is our legal right to have due representation:
7.a) we cannot hold fetes, bring-and-buys, quizzes, plant sales etc, or any other of the normal ways a village would fund raise
7.b) we cannot go door-to-door
- c) many people have no income / vastly reduced income
- The SODC Local Plan is one of the most contentious Local Plans and it would be entirely wrong for it to be the ‘guinea-pig’ for electronic EiP.
It is unreasonable to conduct governmental business electronically without considerable advance warning, a detailed specification of technical requirements, and meaningful rehearsal for all parties concerned.
All of this leaves the whole process of SODC / MHCLG open to Judicial Review.