LOCAL residents may be dismayed and alarmed by the changes to rules governing public participation at Dorset Council planning meetings reported in the Echo on 23rd July.

Whatever the intentions of the Heads of the Planning Committees and the Democratic Services Team, there can be no doubt that the current arrangements are anti-democratic and unnecessarily so.

No reason is given in the ‘Addendum’ effective from 20 July as to why members of the public cannot participate online at planning meetings and put their own case. I recently took part in an event on Zoom attended by over 190 people any one of whom could participate by using the ‘raise hand’ feature. The technician administering an online Dorset Council planning meeting could easily control public participation which could therefore take place according to the normal rules.

For someone to make the time and effort to attend and speak at a planning committee, online or not, shows strong commitment, and this form of democratic participation is qualitatively different to written comments submitted during the public consultation period.

It is also self-evidently undemocratic to allow the reading out of 3 letters for and 3 letters against a planning application. If 50 letters are received against and one in favour, how is it democratic to give equal weight and time to both sides?

It is a dangerous move to suspend democratic rights using the banner of a public emergency. It is to be hoped that Dorset Council’s Head of Planning and Head of Democratic Services will urgently review procedures in order to restore proper democratic representation.

Lucy Grieve