It has been announced that the Examination in Public of South Oxfordshire’s controversial Local Plan is to take place online over the summer, starting on July 14th.
The coronavirus pandemic has already had major impacts on how we live and work, many of which will continue for years to come. Many people are becoming used to using technology to work from home and reducing unnecessary travel. Council committees and even parliament have been able to meet online.
However, the specific requirements of this local plan examination, operating to a fixed deadline imposed by the Secretary of State, demand that all objections and opinions get a fair hearing.
While the council’s excellent officers have the expertise and professional ability to meet these deadlines, and councillors are reasonably confident using the online conferencing technology, this is an examination ‘in public’ and it is the public’s ability to interact successfully with the process that is a key democratic principle.
Says Sam Casey-Rerhaye, Green district councillor for Sandford and the Wittenhams:
“The December deadline imposed by the Secretary of State ought to be extended, and the hearings postponed, to allow public participants to get up to speed after the interruption and pressures caused by the pandemic, and to allow the possibility of the lockdown easing sufficiently for better public access to the examination. We would welcome a hybrid process whereby the examination takes place at a physical location in South Oxfordshire, with social distancing if required, and parallel online interactivity, allowing the best of both worlds in terms of accessibility. At minimum, a location should be provided for those with poor internet connectivity to access the examination.”
Despite the Secretary of State’s imposed deadline and previous threats to hand the plan over to the County Council, South Oxfordshire’s Green district councillors will be making the case for further improvements and changes to the submitted plan, whenever and wherever the examination takes place.