An investigation has been launched after concerns were raised over the validity of supportive statements of controversial housing plans.
Pagham Parish Council complained to Arun District Council after 49 letters supporting Taylor Wimpey’s application for 280 homes in Sefter Road appeared on the authority’s website.
Alarm bells were raised when resident June Hamilton collected ‘rebuttal’ letters from 29 of the supposed supporters, with some claiming they were unaware they were giving the scheme the thumbs up.
Taylor Wimpey admit conducting an iPad-based door-to-door survey – but insist it made its intentions clear.
Describing her visit to the addresses, Mrs Hamilton, of Lower Bognor Road, said: “I said ‘you have been quoted on the district council website and could you tell me if you wrote this letter’? In every single case the answer was ‘no’.
“I smelled a big rat.”
Arun District Council confirmed the parish council’s complaint, which followed up Mrs Hamilton’s concerns. A spokesman said one representation was withdrawn after the writer contacted the council and it was investigating the parish’s concerns.
A Taylor Wimpey spokesman said all residents had a right to comment on the plans and the comments highlighted worries relating to Arun’s housing shortage and difficulties getting on the housing ladder.
They said: “We conducted a one-day door-to- door canvassing session to talk with Arun residents about the housing need in the district, and to ask them whether they would support our application to build up to 280 new homes off Sefter Road.
“The consultation form asked consultees to ‘Comment on the proposals for Sefter Road, Pagham’ and required them to tick a box confirming that by completing the form, they agreed to their details being shared and their name and comments being made available for public viewing.
“Should any of those people consulted now wish to remove their response from the council website, we will happily contact the planning department with their request.”
Update: Arun outlines investigation latest
Arun District Council released an additional statement this afternoon (Wednesday, September 13).
Following information sent by the Taylor Wimpey spokesman, an Arun spokesman said: “Based on this information, and in particular the requirement for people to tick a box confirming that they agreed to their details being shared and their name and comments being made available for public viewing, Arun District Council is treating all of these representations as valid representations for the moment.
“That being said, we have subsequently noted that each of the representations in question uses a ‘do not reply’ WordPress email address.
“Therefore, the person who is named as agreeing to send us the representation would not have received the standard automated acknowledgement that we send out.
“Consequently, whilst it would not be our normal practice to check the validity of the representations received we will in this instance for the reasons set out above, write to all those concerned to ask two questions. Firstly, ‘did you agree to send a representation’ and secondly ‘if you did, do you wish this representation to stand’?
“We will review whether any further action is required when we are able to assess the responses we subsequently receive.”