Brighton & Hove City Council censored the views of residents and undermined local democracy when it forced through its 10-year development plan ‘City Plan Part 2’ this week.
It is essential that Local Councils are open to challenge. Residents have a right to ask their questions, raise deputations and put petitions to Councillors at meetings on the matters on their councillors are about to vote on, and this should never be curtailed. This scrutiny is particularly important for Brighton & Hove City Council where the Greens and Labour make many decisions behind closed doors in accordance with their Memorandum of Understanding coalition agreement.
However this week that scrutiny was curtailed, as Brighton and Hove residents concerned about Whitehawk Hill and Benfield Valley were blocked by the Council from having their say on the Green-Labour Council’s 10-year local development plan.
This is not the first time this has happened: Residents faced a similar situation in 2020 when their petitions and deputations signed by thousands were prevented from being heard when the then Draft City Plan Part 2 was being considered and voted on. The Council stopped four petitions and several deputations that were simply calling for the plan to be reconsidered.
No good reason was provided for these unprecedented actions by the Council, which used a little-known part of the constitution to rule out the items at its will, using the discretion of the Mayor.
The Green-Labour City Development Plan (City Plan Part 2) is controversial with many because it needlessly offers up 15 urban fringe sites for development, including much loved gems such as Benfield Valley and Whitehawk Hill.
These sites should never have been included by the Council as there was no need to. The City is already over 2,700 homes above its housing target. Given there are only 904 homes in the whole urban fringe proposal these sites could have easily been taken out of CPP2 while keeping the plan intact and above housing targets.
An extraordinary number of environmental charities have called out the Council out on this very point.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust said in a statement this week that it was ‘horrified that the Council has put them forward for development despite irrefutable evidence of their environmental importance to local people’. Local groups have been equally vociferous in their criticism of the Council. The Benfield Valley Project, collected 4,751 signatures against the plan, and residents of Whitehawk Hill 1,620 signatures to save their land. All agree that there was no need to offer the sites up when so many brownfield sites were already in the plan.
On Thursday Benfield Valley Project protested outside Hove Town Hall and attended the gallery.
Our Conservative Team put forward three amendments to the plan, expressing concerns on the lack of protection for Whitehawk Hill and Benfield Valley, the arbitrary silencing of residents voices, and calling for the plan to be rejected. However Labour and Greens voted against and forced their plan through.
As Cllr Robert Nemeth said this week, the Green-Labour Council has behaved in a wholly undemocratic way in forcing through its City Plan Part 2 development plan and the document is tainted. The Council’s rulings that that residents petitions ‘cannot affect the plan’ are ridiculous because obviously, councillors could listen to the residents and decide to vote against the Plan if they chose.
It is a dark day when residents who have collected thousands of signatures, spent hours on deputations and put together compelling evidence have been banned from putting their views across by their local Council for no other reason other than it is inconvenient and unwelcome to the Greens and Labour.
It is perverse that the Greens and Labour allow a constant stream of international and national issues to be discussed at length at Brighton & Hove City Council which have absolutely no relevance to Council affairs, such as nuclear weapons, but then do not allow the public to engage on a vital matter that will impact the development of their city for 10 years.
Benfield Valley Project and Whitehawk Hill residents weren’t the only ones to be blocked from having their say this week. As the Argus has reported, a residents’ group were also stopped from asking their questions about councillor expenses. This Group had been challenging the Council on its mishandling of councillor expenses, having exposed dozens of overpayments.
In addition, former Mayor Lynda Hyde was also prevented from asking a question about the Rottingdean Planter, which residents want removed.
These questions may be inconvenient to the Green-Labour Council but they need to be heard and answered. The Council should not be using arbitrary powers to censure views they do not like.
As the Council takes an authoritarian turn, it is important residents stand strong and continue to hold it to account.