Campaigners welcome local plan consultation extension but say it’s still not enough

Campaigners opposing plans for large-scale development in their area have welcomed the deadline extension to Shropshire Council’s local plan consultation – but said it is still not enough.

Shropshire Council's HQ at Shirehall, Shrewsbury
Shropshire Council's HQ at Shirehall, Shrewsbury

The consultation is the last opportunity for members of the public to have their say on the new local plan, which sets out where more than 30,000 houses should be built across the county by 2038.

It was due to end on February 5 but the council has agreed to extend the closing date to February 26 following pressure from action group Shifnal Matters and councillors.

The group has now said that while the extension will give people more time to respond to the consultation it does not address the fact that people without internet access may struggle to take part due to the closure of libraries and other council buildings during the current lockdown.

Shifnal Matters committee member John Moore said: “Shifnal Matters wrote to Shropshire Council on January 6 requesting that the consultation be paused until the current national lockdown is ended, and then restarted with what was four weeks remaining.

“This action would have ensured that residents could be informed about the consultation and have a chance to make paper submissions to Shropshire council.

“The council has not acknowledged this request or the difficulties Shifnal’s vulnerable residents may have in taking part.

“It is almost certain that the current lockdown will persist beyond February 25 so Shropshire Council can have every confidence that residents who are not connected to the internet will remain uninformed and unable to make their objections to this local plan, known to the council.”

The group said the council’s own ‘digital exclusion’ guidelines published in 2016 “confirm that it’s the most vulnerable groups in Shropshire that seem to be the most affected”, and that these are the groups that will currently be shielding.

Announcing the consultation extension last week, Councillor Robert Macey, portfolio holder for housing, said the council was not legally required to provide copies of the draft plan in libraries but chose to do so for the first three weeks of the consultation until the lockdown came into effect.

He added: “As a result, we have agreed to extend the consultation by three weeks, and ensure that paper copies are provided to people who don’t have Internet access.

“Given the importance of the plan and the consultation, this is the right and fairest thing to give people every chance to engage with this important statutory stage of consultation.”

An online petition objecting to Shropshire Council’s development plans for Shifnal has now passed 2,100 signatures. It can be found at change.org/shifnalplan.

The group has also raised its concerns over the proposals for Shifnal with MP Mark Pritchard.

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