Councillors generally do not comment on planning applications. This is because they may find themselves sitting on a committee which decides the application, and any recorded comments could be relied upon by unsuccessful parties as evidence of “pre-determination”. Councillors are required to approach planning applications with an open mind, ready to give all the evidence for and against an application a fair hearing.
The prospect of a new service station on the M25 on greenbelt land in Downside is opposed by the Cobham & Downside Residents’ Association, the Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust and, I believe, the Chamber of Commerce. Dominic Raab, our MP, has written to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, to ask him to call the matter in. However, outside the town of Cobham, there has been no support for this position at all. At meetings of the West Area Planning Sub-Committee and the full Planning Committee, the Cobham & Downside councillors, John Butcher, Mike Bennison and Dorothy Mitchell, have found themselves isolated in their efforts to point out certain shortcomings in the application as presently formulated. Further, the Surrey Advertiser recently ran an editorial advising the campaigners against the service station to accept defeat gracefully.
Inevitably, certain voices have claimed that the whole process is a “stitch-up”. I would not agree with that. But one does wonder why colleagues of all parties refuse to support the cogent and carefully researched arguments which have been advanced by the three Cobham & Downside councillors. And I also ask myself why it should be, when so many commentators decry the failure of politicians properly to serve the communities which elect them, that the efforts of certain committed and hard working local councillors are dismissed so lightly by those who will not have to live near to the consequences of their decisions.