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Plain English Campaign declares the death of local democracy

Plain English Campaign officials are currently reporting on a wave of protests regarding attempts at consultations on local development plans.

‘From Dundee to Derbyshire, we are receiving complaints from people who feel their right to a democratic voice has been taken away’ says campaign founder Chrissie Maher.

‘A look at any sample form – from virtually anywhere in the country – shows the same problems. Legal jargon and political gobbledygook are used throughout and the effect is to deny people their right to a democratic voice. It’s all very well to announce that ‘this is your chance to have your say’ – but Plain English Campaign officials received a letter from a lady with two doctorates who claimed she couldn’t understand the language and gave up on the opportunity to contribute her views partway through. In this situation it is clear that any person with average skills in reading and writing wouldn’t stand a chance of having their views heard.

‘When I look at some of these forms I know my democratic rights are being denied. And I fear this might be intentional and that is a very dangerous road to go down. I predict very few representations will be made by younger people. We could easily find ourselves in a position where we’re planning the future and the people who are the future are effectively denied the opportunity to contribute. It is quite crazy and very dangerous.’

Campaign supporters have looked at the guidelines provided on local development frameworks by The Planning Inspectorate. Some suspect the root cause of the problem may lie there. ‘The guidelines seem to be forcing local councils down a particular path, which in turn forces them to run consultation exercises which are consultative in name only’ says Plain English Campaign media spokesperson Steve Jenner. ‘The document ‘Soundness Guidance’ would fall just short of hilarious were the potential consequences not so serious.

‘Quite apart from anything else, because these guidelines are largely going to lead to generic forms with different local maps on them for different areas, thousands upon thousands of pounds worth of public money could easily have been saved here. All the Government needed to do was to consult Plain English Campaign to create one form people could understand which could be adapted by local councils to suit their own area. We’ve done similar for organisations from Royal Mail through to government departments and the civil service in the past. Why abandon this approach when local authorities need the contributions of local people of all ages and levels of understanding? Otherwise, how can any of these local plans claim any kind of democratic legitimacy?’

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