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20  April

Powys removes public comments from planning portal

08/07/2019 @ 02:11

By Elgan Hearn, Local Democracy Reporter

Powys County Council (PCC) has been accused of concealing information on planning applications after stopping the function to upload comments from the public to its planning portal.

PCC claims this is due to a “data breach” investigated by the Information Commissioner.

People who want to see the comments will now have to make an appointment and trek to County Hall in Llandrindod Wells or Neuadd Maldwyn in Welshpool.

This change of policy was revealed in a question from the public to economy and portfolio holder, Cllr Martin Weale and will be heard at PCC’s full council meeting on Thursday.

Dr Christine Hugh-Jones said: “The planning department is apparently operating new ‘paperless’ procedures for handling incoming documents from applicants, statutory consultees, stakeholder groups and members of the public.

“Representation from the public and stakeholder organisations are not included on the planning portal as they are for many local authorities.

“The current procedures effectively conceal information, which is material to planning decisions, from public view. This raises serious concerns about public accountability and public participation in the planning process.

“What urgent action does the council intend to take to ensure that all relevant planning documents including public responses to planning consultations, are available for public view on the planning portal?

“And how will the council engage with the public in achieving this?”

Cllr Weale answers: “Following a data breach which was was reported to and investigated by the Information Commissioner, the council reviewed its procedures for managing personal data to prevent and avoid further breaches.”

Cllr Weale said that the review found that PCC faces “significant continued risk” of breaching the data protection regulations if publishing third party comments online continued.”

He added that more staff would be needed to read through and redact all comments to reduce the risk before publishing.

Cllr Weale said: “Unfortunately this staff resource is not available within the financial climate we operate in.

“Whilst third party correspondence is not available on the council’s website, this information is available for inspection at either Powys county hall or Neuadd Maldwyn by appointment only.

“An appointment is necessary because staff have to be allowed time to fully prepare the information by redacting all sensitive data.”

Under the Openness of Local Government Act 2014, local authorities are expected to make all comments, including people’s names, available for public inspection, at offices and online.

The Act says that telephone numbers, email addresses, postal addresses and signatures are removed before comments are made available online.”

This Act is also active in Wales.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government said: “Local planning authorities have a legal duty to place the application form and plans on the planning register which is available for the public to view. Almost all authorities provide internet access to the register.

“However, authorities may choose to publish these comments subject to compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018.”


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