The Trouble with Amateurs (Part II)

Having had further time to digest the two-sided sheet of ‘findings’ from the consultation over the Neighbourhood Development Order organised by Mr Giles Baxter and Thomas Homes, it is clear that there are still some serious issues to be examined. In a previous missive I commented on the paucity of data analysis and the amateurish way in which the survey was both created and implemented. In neither case did it reach the standard required to allow its findings to become the basis for making important decisions on the future of our parish. In fact, I defy anyone to tell us clearly what the findings are.

Leaving aside the undemocratic site selection process, the most important point to make about this consultation – supposedly designed to ascertain the opinions of parishioners on the proposed NDO, with its plans for more than 20 houses in a Conservation Area in the centre of Clifton Hampden – concerns the cavalier attitude of its promoters towards data security. There are strict rules governing data collection and handling in the UK, most of which appear to have been ignored by Mr Baxter et al.

Let’s run through some of these. First, the survey should have been anonymised by using an identifier code, based on postcodes. Many people declined to take part in the survey precisely because it was not anonymous and they did not want to give their data to a commercial company. Names and addresses should have been detached and held securely by the Data Controller. No children or temporary visitors should have been included. This would have still provided enough information to get an idea of the distribution of concerns across the parish. And all the anonymised results should have been made available to all respondents.

Second, there is confusion over who is the Data Controller and who is the Data Processor – both important legal categories. Why is Thomas Homes described by the PC as the Data Controller? The Data Controller is responsible for the data, whereas the Processor merely collects and processes it. Even if we had accepted that the survey would not be done by an independent body, the NDO Steering Group should have been the Controller and Thomas Homes the Processor. Since May 2018, the ownership of the data stays with the Controller, who is also responsible for defining the purpose of the data, its collection and what and how it will be collected. As things stand, in legal terms Thomas Homes is in charge of the data.

Third, it is unclear what Mr Baxter and Thomas Homes intend to do with the data. How securely is it stored? Who has copies? We were told in a letter of 25 February from PC chair Mr Chris Neill that the data would be held until after the referendum on the NDO – not likely to be before summer of 2022 – or until it was of no further use. What do they intend to do with it?

Anyone who is unhappy about the way their data is being processed has a legal right, under data protection laws (Article 12.3 of the GDPR), to have personal records deleted, and for the Data Controller to provide evidence that they have done so, within 30 days as required by law. This request extends to all processors and third parties that may also have handled personal data, supplied by the Data Controller. If the data had been anonymised, this could be done without removing their opinions from the survey. We know that despite assurances that the individual responses to the survey would remain confidential, the responses were viewed by member of the NDO Steering Committee and maybe others. This is a serious breach of the data protection legislation.

There were other flaws in the survey:

  •  Respondents could fill the form in more than once online.
  • Those who changed their response between the first submission date and the second submission of 28 March were not told how their two responses would be assessed.
  • The online form could be completed either ‘for myself’ or for “all members of the household”. A couple with 4 children would count as six respondents. This has created a confusion in the consultation report over ‘respondents’ and ‘residents’.
  • There was no restriction on voting for ‘weekenders’ and others with second homes, even if they had little connection with the village.
  • The questions were open to interpretation and were neither qualitative nor quantitative, but a mix, which can only lead to confusion.

In summary, the amateurism that has surrounded the Parish Council and its attempts to railroad through this unpopular housing scheme, designed specifically to line the pockets of the Gibbs Estate, has yet again undermined the very scheme it is intended to support. As things stand, it seems very unlikely that the inspector will allow this scheme to go to a referendum next year. It is not community-led, its consultation data cannot be relied on and too many of those involved have conflicts of interest for any of us to place any faith in it.

The Great ‘Stolen’ Water Pump Saga

Anyone who knows Clifton Hampden will have noticed the fact that the once-thriving village allotments, owned by the Gibbs Estate, are in a disgraceful state of dereliction. Most have been abandoned since the hand-operated pump from which gardeners could obtain water for their plots disappeared some years ago. How it disappeared has never been convincingly explained, but neither has it been replaced. Despite this, the recently formed Burcot and Clifton Hampden Wildlife Club recently decided to start an allotment garden project, to be used in part for educating children at the village school on how to grow food and search for wildlife. The Village Hall committee was enthusiastic about the project and suggested an allotment next to the village hall and also gave permission for a water butt to be placed there, fed by the guttering from the hall. Savills, the land agent for the Gibbs Estate, was duly contacted and it looked like it was all about to happen.

Then an email arrived from Christopher Purvis, the representative of the Gibbs Estate, which likes to brag about its generosity towards the village:

“I have spoken to Savills (I am copying Laurence May and Charles Campion). We are not taking on any new allotment tenants now. There has been no water supply to the allotments for many years; we are not putting one in for the short time until the referendum that will decide whether the development will proceed.
It is our plan, as I have said before, that, if the development does proceed, the allotment site will be moved and that a water supply will be fitted.  
The allotments and the land around (including the village hall car park) are private land, owned by the estate. It is our plan that, amongst the gifts to be made by the estate as part of the development, the allotments will pass into community ownership and they will become a community asset. For the moment they remain private land.”

So a wonderful initiative from parishioners to improve the quality of the environment and possibly add to the education of village children has been stifled by this mean little letter. The Gibbs Estate – which has done nothing about the missing water pump for years – would rather the allotments lay abandoned and unused than productive and even educational. Perhaps they believe this will make it easier to get it re-zoned as housing development land. And don’t forget, everyone, this is their land and if we are good boys and girls and vote the right way over the NDO we may get a little treat. Thanks for nothing – quite literally.

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