Rod Giddins – Birchington Neighbourhood Planning Adviser 2019-2023
Six years ago Thanet District Council and Birchington Parish Council signed an agreement. This allowed the Parish Council to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan and set out obligations of both parties.
Thousands of volunteer hours were then spent doing research, gathering evidence and consulting the community about their aspirations for the village. Specialist advice was sought and paid for by the Parish Council to make sure the draft Plan was fit for purpose.
Work on drafting the Plan continued through to formal public consultation in September 2021.
This was an opportunity for businesses, residents, visitors, local authorities, agencies and organisations to comment. The Plan was then amended. The draft Plan was approved by the Parish Council at the end of November 2021 and formally submitted to Thanet District Council a week later. It was advertised. Responses were kept to pass to the yet-to-be-appointed Examiner.
The Examiner was selected in March 2022 by the District Council (in consultation with the Parish Council) from a national register of experienced professionals. In June 2022, the contract between Thanet District Council was signed. It was now up to that Council to manage the process through to a Referendum of voters in Birchington. Examples of best practice from around the country show that an Examiner can take up to 20 days, across several weeks, to complete the examination, depending upon the complexity of the Plan. At all times, there would be open dialogue between the Examiner and the District/Parish Councils.
After three months the Parish Council was notified by the District Council that the Examiner would require some changes to the Statement accompanying the Plan.
Another three months later a meeting was convened by the Examiner and attended by District and Parish representatives. It was agreed that a further short public consultation should take place solely considering the Statement, not the Plan. This was done.
The Examiner committed to producing a draft Report on the Plan by the end of January 2023.
Further deadlines were set by Thanet District Council but, to date, there has been nothing, zilch, zero from the Examiner.
The contract between Thanet District Council and the Examiner provides that they can terminate this if he is not performing services to their reasonable satisfaction or has been prevented by illness, injury or otherwise from providing the services thus causing an unacceptable delay in completing the work.
Failure by the Examiner to deliver his report and the lack of action by Thanet District Council in enforcing the contract, is deplorable. They have shown a total disregard for all the hard work carried out by residents and Parish Councillors on compiling the Neighbourhood Plan since 2017. Six years!
One year after the Examiner was appointed, we still have no report nor any idea whether the Plan is acceptable or will need modifying. We don’t have a Plan approved and ready to submit to a Parish Referendum. In the meantime, the policies in the draft Plan do not have any legal status and cannot be used to affect planning decisions made by Thanet District Council.
Whatever happened to Birchington’s Neighbourhood Plan?
Thanet council says:
“When a Neighbourhood Plan is submitted for examination, the timetable is set by the Examiner. The council is not able to set deadlines in the way that it would for a standard consultancy contract. The timetable may change significantly, depending on the findings of the Examiner, as work progresses.
“In this particular case, the examination has taken longer than anticipated.
“We have recently been in contact with the Examiner and the report is expected imminently.”