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Elmbridge Borough Council:
Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Statement of Community Involvement 

This title (a legal necessity) disguises the real purpose of these proposals which is that the Council should cease publishing comments (from objectors as well as supporters) about local planning applications on the Council’s website, or making hard copies available for public viewing. It has been promoted by a few councillors, none of whom are from the Residents' Group, following legal advice in relation to the publishing of personal information which may contravene the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What is this all about?

GDPR requires that the council has to take care what personal information is published. There is a risk of potentially large fines if these regulations are breached, although as yet Elmbridge Borough Council has not been threatened with any such fines. To reduce the risk, and also the risk of any private actions against the Council, staff spend time checking all letters which come in, before they are published. However this system is not infallible. Current legal advice is that the risk can be most effectively minimised if comments from residents about planning applications are no longer published at all, but are seen only by planning officers and made available to councillors on planning committees.

Can the risk be sufficiently reduced without removing comments altogether?

Most definitely yes. While the staff costs for checking every letter are not insignificant, the view of the TD & WG Residents' Association is that this is essential for transparency and democracy to be protected, so allowing all submitted comments to be published. Simply removing the names and addresses attached to the comments before they are put up on the website, and removing all comments once the final decision has been made (an option put forward by officers to the Planning Committee), would sufficiently reduce the risk of contravening GDPR. It would be a proportionate way of dealing with the issue, while still providing a public audit trail of the comments and helping residents to understand the issues.

What happens in other Boroughs?

Out of the 11 District and Borough Councils in Surrey, all publish representations on planning applications. Only two do not publish some combination of name and/or address (though several others are also currently considering how to manage the GDPR risks).

Of the 33 London Boroughs, 16 publish comments with the name and address, a few publish the comments but not the name and address, and 11 do not publish the comments. In some cases, it is thought this is historic, i.e. comments have never been published so there has been no decision to withdraw the publication of comments.

Responding to the Consultation

Do you think all comments on planning applications should be made available to the public?
Please make sure that Elmbridge Borough Council knows what YOU think of these proposals in the Consultation on the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) 2023 by going to:

The Consultation closes at 4.00pm on Friday 24th February.