Consultation for Framlingham’s Neighbourhood Plan called into question at meeting

Questions have been raised over the validity of a Suffolk town’s neighbourhood plan after it was alleged that a number of public responses to the consultation were disregarded.

The claims were made at a public meeting called by the Framlingham Residents Association (FRAm) last week into two housing appeals in the town, for 100 homes on land at Mount Pleasant and 163 homes on land off Fairfield Road.

It follows a public consultation into the Framlingham Neighbourhood Plan, a document which sets out preferred locations for development and which is currently in draft format, which put Mount Pleasant as the “best of the least preferred land allocations” to accommodate housing growth.

However, FRAm, which has three members which sit on the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, has said that if the responses had been compiled differently Mount Pleasant may not have been included. It follows an exercise in which residents were asked to rank four of the 11 proposed housing sites in the town in their order of preference for development.

FRAm chairman Chris Sharpe said people should have been given the opportunity to express complete opposition against a proposed site, with a 4 ranking only meaning it was the least preferred of the group.

He said: “We had quite a strong debate about this. One of the reasons given was that in the second consultation ‘no’ wasn’t given as an option therefore it was not a valid response. The problem is that there was no explanation of what 4 meant. Did that mean you didn’t like it or did blank mean you didn’t like it?”

The chairman of the steering group, John Jones, confirmed that any votes of ‘no’ were not used in the formation of the draft plan, but that other numerical rankings on the same form would still have been used.

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He said: “It was important that we got a ranking from highest to lowest so we knew people’s preferences. If someone said no to the whole page it was a spoilt vote.”

Of the 286 responses received in the consultation, Mr Jones confirmed around 40 were classed as spoilt votes.

A previous consultation activity held at Sir Robert Hitcham’s Primary School, in which residents were asked to simply state yes or no in favour of development at the 11 sites, was also not included in the formation of the draft plan.

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