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Evaluation of Claimed Responses to Greater Cambridge Shared Planning First Conversation consultation and Call for Sites

Monday, 26 April 2021 17:50

Aerial view of Cambridge Aerial view of Cambridge Photograph by CM Glee

PLANNING TO CONFUSE?

How many individuals comprise 8,500 responses?

The consultation by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (GCSP) on the new Local Plan was carried out in January and February 2020, and referred to as the "First Conversation".

The website says that it received "over 8,500 comments and responses". Analysis by CPRE shows that GCSP counted each question answered as an individual response - but did not count the number of individual people responding.

And when suggestions for development sites (which are unlikely to be suggested by residents) are removed, the number of questions answered falls to 7,800.

! In the Opus 2 Consult system, the highest number of individuals replying to one of the 50 questions was 66; some questions received fewer than 20 responses from individuals. So, even if all the email responses (1,020) were from individuals, which is not the case, the maximum number of responses received from individuals would be 1,086. Not exactly 8,500!

! A number of responses have been counted twice.

! There are a significant number of responses from commercial interests, sometimes in a corporate name and sometimes in the name of an individual. GCSP stated: “Some respondents on Opus Consult were agents representing multiple clients. In many cases these respondents submitted an identical response multiple times on behalf of different clients. These are considered as separate representations as they were submitted on behalf of separate respondents. For the purposes of plan-making and responding to issues raised in the consultation, it is the content of representations, not the amount of them, that will be evaluated.” So multiple versions of responses will be counted to make up numbers.

! The area has a population of about 280,000. 66 people represent 0.0235 per cent, or 1 in 4,200 people. 1086 people would only represent 0.388 per cent of the population. Can that be a sound basis for long-term policy making?

 

THE FULL ANALYSIS

Introduction

In January and February 2020 Greater Cambridge Shared Planning, (GCSP), held the “First Conversation” styled as being “about what the new Local Plan should contain”.

Subsequently, the GCSP have claimed on their website to have received “..over 8,500 comments and responses to the consultation questions from a huge range of people, over 650 suggested sites for development and 21 sites for green spaces.” https://www.greatercambridgeplanning.org/emerging-plans-and-guidance/greater-cambridge-local-plan/first-conversation-consultation-and-call-for-sites/

At first glance this appeared to be an exceptionally high level of response from the citizens of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire (current population c.280,000) for this type of consultation.

So, following conversations with local representatives, CPRE agreed to examine the claimed numbers in more detail. The steps taken and the outcome is as follows below.

Steps Taken

The following records published via the GCSP web site were read and examined.

First conversation results

Spreadsheet titled - gclp-first-conversation-website-comments-2020-09-15 Comments received via the GCSPS website

Spreadsheet titled - gclp-first-conversation-opus-2-consult-and-email-responses-2020-09-15 Comments received via the Opus 2 consult system and through email

Detailed review of comments registered and published on GCSPS web site Comments received via the Opus 2 consult system and through email

Results and Comments

1. The claim made on the web site of over 8,500 comments and responses appears to be misleading. Firstly, it does not make clear that this was not the number of individuals or organisations who made responses but the number of questions answered on a 50-item questionnaire plus some other responses.

2. This is further clarified in paragraph 6.1 of the Report dated 16 October 2020 which states:

“We received responses and comments to the consultation through a number of channels:

 

Means of responding  Number of responses 
Responses using the Local Plan website comment forms  1020 
Responses using the Opus 2 Consult system or submitted via email (excluding Call for Sites and Call for Green Sites  6588 
Call for Sites (including late site submissions up to 16 October 2020)  675 
Call for Green Sites  21 
Feedback postcards from events  226 

We also received general notes and feedback from the meetings held during the consultation period, which are not counted as responses in the table above.

The total number of responses (each response being an answer to a single question, multiple answers may have been submitted by the same respondent to different questions), was 7,874, excluding Call for Sites and Call for Green Sites submissions.”

In other words, the total number of responses was 8,530 including Site and Green Site submissions. Therefore, the wording of the web site, “We received over 8,500 comments and responses to the consultation questions from a huge range of people, over 650 suggested sites for development and 21 sites for green spaces.” effectively double-counts the sites for development and the sites for green spaces because it appears additive.

3. CPRE next examined the 7,874 individual responses made using the two spreadsheets and the Opus 2 application on the website with the objective of determining how many individuals actually responded to the consultation.

4. In the spreadsheet titled “gclp-first-conversation-website-comments-2020-09-15.xlsx” it was found that the majority of the responses listed do not provide any information about whose comments and views are being expressed. Furthermore the number of lines of response on each sheet is not an indicator because some sheets include multiple choice questions, in others individuals have stated that they have answered more than once and throughout the number of responses to each question is very variable. Thus it is not possible to identify the number of individuals included in this group. However, it is clear from the wording and content of the responses that many are from individuals.

5. Using the spreadsheet titled “gclp-first-conversation-opus-2-consult-and-email-responses-2020-09-15” and the detailed review of comments registered and published on GCSPS web site, it was possible to draw some clear conclusions as follows:

  • The highest number of individuals to respond to any of the questions posed was 66,
  • A number of the questions received less than 20 responses from individuals,
  • In the spreadsheet responses from both individuals and groups have been counted twice. This occurs on the majority of the questions posed. For example:
    • In question 26, the response from Endurance Estates was cited twice,
    • In question 31, comments from Lolworth Development Ltd were cited twice when two individuals from the company responded both via the agent, Bidwells,
    • In question 31 the respondent James Manning, ID 49100, submitted comments with no agent cited, then a further response, ID number 49294, was submitted via his agent Carter Jonas.
    • In question 33, comments have been received from or on behalf of Endurance Estates five times, once submitted by a Miss Claire Shannon.
    • Comments have also been accepted from Miss Claire Shannon who appears as an individual, see Q1 ID52356. However, exactly the same comments to the same questions have also been received from the agents Cheffins ID 45502, 45419, 44998, 44940, Maarnford-Butler family ID 44597 and Mr Ben Pridgeon ID 44554.

There are numerous examples like this where agents have given the same answer several times on behalf of different clients and where individuals acting as agents have then answered the same question as an individual. Some have made clear how or why they have answered more than once, others have not.

To its credit, Greater Cambridge Shared Planning states in its document Greater Cambridge Local Plan First Conversation, Call for Sites and Call for Green Sites Data -Report updated 16 October 2020 on page 8 “Some respondents on Opus Consult were agents representing multiple clients. In many cases these respondents submitted an identical response multiple times on behalf of different clients. These are considered as separate representations as they were submitted on behalf of separate respondents. For the purposes of plan-making and responding to issues raised in the consultation, it is the content of representations, not the amount of them, that will be evaluated.”

However, no such clarification is highlighted on its website.

Conclusions

Given that the population of Greater Cambridge (2020) is c. 280,000 it is questionable how well the First Conversation Consultation does reflect the views of residents.

The majority of responses originate from organisations and/or their agents.

There are occurrences where responses could be construed as misrepresenting the nature of their origin and there are certainly many duplications (and more) of responses.

Is a maximum of 66 individuals responding to a question really representative of the views of local residents in a population of 280,000?

CPRE fully understands how difficult it is to conduct consultations, especially when the subjects are very complex. However, this Local Plan is likely to have a long-lasting and highly significant influence on the future character and setting of Cambridge and its surroundings. It is therefore imperative that local residents are properly and fully engaged in the decision-making process and not the victims of some overarching plan for ‘growth’ dreamt up by Whitehall.

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