Fears of “intimidation” after Kirklees council says objectors’ addresses will be made public on planning applications

There are fears that the public may be deterred from objecting to contentious planning developments after Kirklees Council opted to post objectors’ addresses on its applications.

By Ian Hirst
Sunday, 17th January 2021, 12:00 pm

There are fears that the public may be deterred from objecting to contentious planning developments after Kirklees Council opted to post objectors’ addresses on its applications.

The change to policy was quietly introduced last month. The council says it was to aid transparency on planning matters, and is consistent with the approach of neighbouring local authorities in the region.

It said a decision was made following complaints relating to “the extent of redaction of representations” published on its website.

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Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield)

The new policy came into effect on December 14.

It means the postal address of anyone making representations on a planning application will be displayed.

However names, personal email addresses or telephone numbers will not.

The move has been described as “overkill” by one resident who challenged the council to explain why it appeared to be adding people’s addresses to its website by copying them from separate submissions.

He said: “The addresses that appear were never submitted with the comments; I know because my own submissions were submitted without them, but appear with them.

“The addresses have been added to the submissions, and then made public.”

He said text on the council’s website “does not state the commentator’s personal address will be added to submissions. Instead it simply states they will not be removed.

“‘Adding’ and ‘not being removed’ are two distinct actions. For this reason I believe Kirklees Council is currently in breach of GDPR.”

Campaigners who have battled the authority over its controversial Local Plan, which aims to build tens of thousands of homes across the borough, believe the move could lead to people being intimidated after voicing their opinions.

The change was also flagged by Cheryl Tyler, who runs campaign group Save Mirfield.

She said: “The council used to redact all details of objectors but obviously had them on file. Now they show the address – including the number or name of the house – from whence the objection came.

“This is worrying. Personally I, and lots of others, don’t think there should be anything on there that can easily identify an objector.

“My own main concern is that if an objector provides full contact details but asks for them not to be put online, will the objection be refused?

“If so people who are concerned about their personal privacy will be disenfranchised. I think this is unacceptable.”

Her concerns were echoed by veteran councillor Andrew Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton), who sits on the Strategic Planning Committee.

He said he had not been made aware of the policy change and commented: “There is a danger that legitimate concerns about applications do not get voiced because people are concerned about the consequences.

Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) said he and other councillors had been “left out of the loop” and that a decision had been made internally by council staff.

He added: “It’s a poor situation when elected members on a council find out from residents what’s going on in the council.

“It never occurs to them to seek endorsement from Cabinet or to ask councillors what they think.”

A spokesperson for Kirklees Council said: “The development management privacy policy regarding the publication of planning comments on the website has recently been reviewed and updated accordingly.

“The update to the policy, as set out on the planning website, means that the postal address on a representation is now unredacted along with any information that identifies the address, for example, ‘My side window, which faces onto the application boundary…’.

“This was considered necessary as part of the planning process as there is the legitimate interest to the public in understanding the nature of the objections and being able to test the truth of any claims made in relation to a planning application. Where an objector lives is therefore relevant.”

Tony Earnshaw , Local Democracy Reporting Service

KIRKLEES: Fears of “intimidation” after council says objectors’ addresses will be made public on planning applications

CAPTION: Campaigner Cheryl Tyler of Save Mirfield. FREE USE TO ALL NEWSWIRE PARTNERS