HBC, planning applications and a little matter of trust

Updated – 22 October

Updated – 20 December

It might surprise you to know that 81% of the residents of Havant trust their council. With the national average score being just 64%, which in itself would seem a commendable result, that must put Havant Borough Council right up near the top of the league table of ‘trustworthiness’.

The figure is all the more surprising when you hear that this same council believes that when we comment on planning applications, we are simply ‘filling in an opinion survey’. That’s a rather insulting statement from the Council, given that our belief is that a significant majority of those who write comments on planning applications actually spend a fair amount of time reading and understanding the material available before submitting their input.

So while residents view this process as our opportunity to provide important public context to planning applications, a form of ‘community scrutiny’, Havant Borough Council clearly treat it as a trivial ‘opinion survey’ that carries no weight.

Rather surprising for a Council that claims to believe in public stakeholder engagement.

Mr Comlay tabled a Public Question on this subject at Wednesday’s meeting of the full Council. His underlying motive for tabling the question was the perception, we suspect shared by many of you, that there is little point in commenting on planning matters in this borough because the council appear to simply ignore any input that the community gives them.

You can listen to the question, and the response from Cllr. Pike by clicking the arrow on the image below, we think it’s easily worth six minutes of your time.

If you want to read that through and mull it over, you can download a transcript of the exchange by selecting this link.

Here’s just one extract from Cllr. Pike’s response:

So firstly, in terms of trust of this Council, I’m pleased to say that the most recent residents survey which was conducted in June of this year found that 81% of our residents trust this council, which is against a national benchmark of 64% of councils generally so the information that that tells us is that our council is trusted by residents and if I might be allowed to make a small political point, clearly we stood on what we were trying to do at this year’s election and this administration secured all of the seats across the borough. So I’m confident that this council is trusted by residents and we are trying to do what residents would like us to do.”

If that figure of 81% seems surprising to you, well you’re not alone.

Towards the end of the Council meeting Mr Comlay emailed Cllr. Pike with a simple question:

A couple of hours later, he received a rather surprising response.

In other words, the figure quoted publicly in Cllr. Pike’s response to a serious question was not in the public record, had not been qualified and is therefore currently unsubstantiated.

Mr. Comlay pressed him on this point in a reply:

So having waited another month….

On October 20th, Mr. Comlay asked for an update:

The following day, a not unexpected response:

With no response yet to Mr. Comlay’s reasonable request, Havant Civic Society suspect that “the most recent residents survey which was conducted in June of this year” may have been an online poll of the ‘Havant Borough Council online panel’ – a little known group of ‘residents’ who volunteer to take part in questionnaires and polls to express their views on council services and the local area. We’d not actually heard of this panel before, but you can find the details at this link. and note that you can join and become part of the group. It seems that they need a few more volunteers since the last survey quoted on the website had just 37 responders.

So until we have a clear reply from Cllr. Pike, it would be reasonable to assume that ‘81% of the residents’ might mean that just 32 people said they trust Havant Borough Council.

So, Cllr Pike. How does that number stack up against the 330 who commented on the 32 New Lane application, the 650 who’ve commented on the Portsmouth Water HQ application, the 347 who’ve commented on the Southmere Field application, the 141 who commented on Campdown and the 515 who commented on Sinah Lane?

We could go on….

Updated December 20th

We finally have the answer!

When Cllr. Pike said that 81% of residents trusted the Council, he was actually referring to the ‘HBC Covid Wave 3 Survey’ in which the question asked was: “How trustworthy do you feel the advice and information on Covid-19 from the following sources are?” Quite what that has to do with planning matters is beyond us.

We leave it up to you, the reader, to make up your own mind on whether or not Cllr. Pike was deliberately misleading the Council, the questioner and the public.