Doubts have been cast over the accuracy of information given to residents by St Helens Council regarding the Local Plan.
In June, new practical guidance on the procedural aspects of the examination of local plans was published by the government.
Subsequently, St Helens Council sought legal advice before writing to residents to inform them of the implications of the new guidance, titled Procedural Practice for Local Plans.
Residents were told there is now necessity to publish the names and addresses of responsdents on the council’s website.
While residents can request to have this information redacted, the council said it would be “unlikely” anonymous representations would be considered by the government’s planning inspector.
Following this, local campaign group, Residents against the Florida Farm Developments, sought further clarification from the Planning Inspectorate.
A response has now been provided and confirms that, while names and addresses should be made available to the planning inspector, there is no necessity for these details to be published online or elsewhere.
“Our current Procedural Practice for Local Plans does confirm that the LPA (local planning authority) should ensure that the inspector and all other participants are able to know who has made representations on the plan,” the Planning Inspectorate said.
“Consequently, it is important that the LPA is able, lawfully, to process personal data held in relation to representations on the plan so that the representations can be made available without the redaction of names and addresses and taken into account by the examining inspector.
“This is underpinned by legislation and we believe it to be necessary for reasons of procedural fairness, transparency and also to allow parties to contact each other and make the best use of examination resources.
“However, the Procedural Practice does not necessarily require the LPA to publish (on the internet/examination website) the names and addresses of those making representations, which is a decision for the plan making authority as the relevant data controller.”
The Planning Inspectorate added that names and addresses could potentially be made available to the planning inspector on request.
It also confirmed that anonymous representations will be considered by the planning inspector, although they may not be given the same weight as those that include names and addresses.
“We do fully appreciate that some people may not want their names and/or addresses to be made available and/or published (noting the distinction between these two terms),” the Planning Inspectorate said.
“Indeed, some people may have legitimate reasons for seeking this.
“However, it will be for the inspector, when appointed, to determine the practical implications of this on the examination.
“However, it may be that the inspector may not be able to give anonymised representations the same weight as those where the name and address is available.”
In light of the new information, Residents against the Florida Farm Developments has called on St Helens Council to reconsider the advice is has issued to residents as a “matter of urgency”.
A spokesman for St Helens Council said it is now seeking “clarification” on the issue.
“When the new guidance came into effect we sought legal advice on what the changes meant for the process of the Local Plan,” a council spokesman said.
“This was done based on information given to us by the Planning Inspectorate and clarified on the implications from a data protection perspective.
“We have also been made aware of the Planning Inspectorate response to others and are seeking clarification on what the position on identifying submissions is likely to be.”