Cllrs Horace Mitchell and James Lewin convened a public meeting at the Portal Hall in Burghclere to explain the issues raised by the application by Highclere Castle for Enabling Development for the Estate. About 60 members of the public came.
"I commend Horace and James for their initative in holding this meeting; there is a lot of anxiety about what might happen, but also a lot of misunderstanding about the process and the options. I believe people were much clearer about the sequence of events, and about the respective duties of planning officers, councillors, English Heritage and the Secretary of State. Horace also gave some useful advice about how members of the public could engage with the decision-making process."
"The presentation which Horace gave at the beginning of the meeting made it clear that Basingstoke and Deane had to respond to the application from the Castle for enabling development- they couldn't simply reject it. And he made it clear that the initial stages of the response fell to the planning department rather than to councillors. And councillors could not instruct officers what to do. The point at which councillors begin to get involved is not reached until next Wednesday, when the Environment Overview Committee meets at Penwood Village Hall."
Horace Mitchell then explained that that meeting would decide whether the draft Enabling Development Policy, specially tailored for the circumstances at Highclere was appropriate. This would provide a framework through which any subsequent applications might best be processed. This would involve the establishment of a local panel with representation on it from parish councils, the Highclere Society and other stakeholders, with a neutral chairman and additional consultations. The panel could indicate which sites might be considered earlier than others for development and what type of development might be acceptable. The outcome on Wednesday would be a recommendation to the Council, which could support, oppose or amend the proposed EDP.
He made it clear that, while both he and James Lewin were cabinet members at Basingstoke and Deane, their loyalty was to the ward they represented and that would be their prime consideration. They would not take part in any cabinet discussion, and would speak and vote as ward members.
Cllr Mitchell explained the role of English Heritage, who would have the final word on whether or not the conditions for enabling development had been met. That decision would be taken at the time of any specific planning applications. Those who disagreed with the line being taken by English Heritage should take it up with them direct, setting out the reasons for disagreement.
A letter from English Heritage, circulated at the meeting, said that "Highclere is a historic entity, or ensemble of buildings, land and contents, which would inevitable and materially be harmed by break-up and sale. Retaining the integrity of such an ensemble can be a legitimate aim of enabling development, permitted for the purpose of making the estate viable in the medium to long term."
Horace Mitchell confirmed that adopting the policy on Wednesday would not in any sense predetermine any future applications and would not commit the council to approval of future applications.
(I had to leave the meeting before the subsequient discussion. I hope to give some details of this, subject to receiving input from those present.)