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Planning decisions risk being ‘rubber stamped’ due to coronavirus outbreak, warn protestors

PUBLISHED: 08:59 07 April 2020 | UPDATED: 08:59 07 April 2020

Mark Bridges, from Realistic Reepham, said objectors faced new obstacles to getting their voices heard following the governments lockdown. Photo: Steve Adams

Mark Bridges, from Realistic Reepham, said objectors faced new obstacles to getting their voices heard following the governments lockdown. Photo: Steve Adams

Changes to the planning process during the coronavirus outbreak risk applications being “rubber stamped” due to the removal of the “democratic approach”, a village protest group has warned.

Mark Bridges, from Realistic Reepham, at a previous campaign. Photo: Steve AdamsMark Bridges, from Realistic Reepham, at a previous campaign. Photo: Steve Adams

The founder of the pressure group Realistic Reepham said objectors faced new obstacles to getting their voices heard following the government’s lockdown.

Developer Lovell have submitted plans to Broadland District Council to widen Broomhill Lane in preparation for a potential nearby housing development.

Mark Bridges, from Reepham, said he feared residents would be unable to submit comments on the proposals due to the upheaval.

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And Mr Bridge said the group was strongly opposed to the application being processed at this time, due to “information sharing and discussion [being] at their most difficult”.

He said: “It is one of the most important applications coming to Broadland in several decades.

“We believe that it is inappropriate to process this application until residents can meet in person to view the documentation, understand the plans and discuss its implications.

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“Not all residents are able to use the planning process online, access online meeting technology or have the ability to understand technical documentation.”

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He added: “We would like to be able to go to the county council and talk to the Highways officers and come away with next steps.

“If nothing is said it’s just rubber stamped through. That democratic approach has been removed by the current crisis.

“We can’t engage people in the fullest way. To be able to sit in a room and have active conversations just isn’t possible.”

And he said Reepham residents had reported more than 1,100 comments to Broadland council over the last nine years, and added: “When you look at the lack of democracy - how can that many people tell you something is wrong and it’s still ignored?”

A Broadland council spokesman said residents’ concerns were “fully appreciated” and the council recognised “that these are exceptional circumstances”.

He said: “We will continue to process and consider applications but will do so in an flexible and pragmatic way to ensure residents are able to participate.

“We recognise people may need longer to consider and comment on planning applications and officers will happily consider reasonable deadline extensions.”

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