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Column 7th October 2020

Consultations allow us to express our views

I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing the responses to consultations on behalf of the Campaign Group. First it was the government consultation on changes to the way in which the housing need figures for Local Plans are calculated. Then it was the consultation on the Transport Strategy for England’s Economic Heartland (EEH). This got me thinking about the number of consultations we have responded to over the years. There have been numerous government consultations on planning issues, several regional transport consultations, NHS and Healthwatch consultations on health services, County and District consultations on plans and strategies, developer consultations on housing developments and of course town consultations on the neighbourhood plan and the pedestrianisation proposals. So what is the purpose of all of this work? According to the dictionary a ‘consultation’ is ‘the process of discussing something with someone in order to get their advice or opinion about it’. There is nothing in the definition which says that once you have received an opinion anything will change. That ties in very well with our experience. I don’t think anything has changed as a result of any response to a consultation we have submitted but if we don’t engage in the process we have no excuse for any of the decision makers making decisions that we don’t like. It’s similar to an election or referendum, if you don’t vote then how can you complain about the outcome? We elect people to make decisions on our behalf, but unfortunately they don’t always make decisions that we would agree with. EEH is a partnership of local transport authorities (including Oxfordshire) and local enterprise partnerships (including the Oxfordshire LEP), including Swindon, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Luton. The only elected person to represent Oxfordshire on this body is Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council (members of the LEP are not elected) and I sometimes wonder if he knows that Wantage exists. Then again, the only person elected to represent OX12 in Parliament is the Honourable David Johnston MP OBE and I’m not sure how much he knows about the views of his constituents. He is most likely to vote in line with the government and that may not reflect the views of our local community. If we don’t respond to consultations these people won’t know what our views are, even if they do choose to ignore them.

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