A number of people who are responding to important appeals on housing and fish farm applications have contacted us saying they were having difficulty getting information on old appeals from the DPEA website. It is really useful in some cases to have details of previous decisions to understand what Reporter’s have said about previous appeals on similar cases or nearby sites that is relevant to the current appeal. However appeal information only stays on the DPEA web site for 12 weeks from the date the decision is made. After that most documents are removed although the initial appeal documentation and the decision issued by DPEA stays up. But the important details of previous cases is no longer accessible. This means that people who are already stressed and stretched by having to respond to an appeal had to specifically contact the DPEA to ask for this information.
The difficulty is that this process takes time (for example it can take the DPEA over a week to get back to the initial request and the information still isn’t made available), which is really unhelpful when they allow only 21 days for a representation to be made! It certainly adds to the frustration and worry for people frustrated and worried about developments that (having been rejected by local authorities) are likely to be detrimental to their locality.
PD worked with a planner and expert in Environmental Information Regulations who raised a complaint and pointed out why the DPEA should keep information available. At first the DPEA responded that they can “only publish the information for as long as reasonably necessary, and, once an appeal has concluded the jurisdiction for DPEA ends. It is then a matter for the local authority to ensure the terms of any decision are adhered to,” However our expert explained that this ignored their legal obligations under environmental regulations. He also mentioned that the Energy Consents Unit keep information up for 10 years on their website.
Possibly as a result of realising that the ECU keep their information available, the DPEA have happily now decided to change things, to have some sort of consistency with other Units. They will now keep all (or nearly all) information online for 10 years and retain consent decisions for 30 years. It may take a while to make this change to their website but hopefully not more than a couple of months.
This may be a small win, but slowly step by step we help to reduce the barriers to public engagement one by one!
We still need to work on perceptions at the DPEA however. We noted that they talk about the “parties” involved with the appeal, but this did not seem to include the individuals and communities who might be interested or affected by the decisions, particularly prior decisions. When will affected communities get the recognition they deserve in our developer friendly planning system we wonder?