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Town’s updated website now conceals more than it reveals

Newmarket’s new revamped and updated website now blocks key information that used to be readily available. There are numerous blind alleys and dead ends.

There are also weird circular links which take the reader back to where he or she started from, without providing substantive information.

Detailed on-line information on major planning applications on Newmarket’s official website has simply disappeared.

Now anyone who wants to read the background documentation on a current application has to contact the Town’s Planning Department, cap in hand.

Again, information on the evolution of the Secondary Plan has vanished. Background reports and studies are, though, still available from the Planning Department. But they used to be on-line.

In this day and age we do not need a discredited Planning Department acting as gatekeeper, allowing people, on application, access to paper records (or, perhaps, electronic records) that used to be available instantaneously on-line.

Burying Information

Navigating the Town’s clunky old website was always a bit of a challenge. Important information was often hidden away in odd corners, sometimes buried many levels deep. But the streamlined revamped website blocks useful information that should remain accessible and in the public domain. Many links from this blog and others to the Town’s website are now redundant.

Of course the Town has every right to update its own website and make it more user friendly. But blocking or concealing key information that informs debate on the Town’s performance – positive and negative – is taking a huge backward step.

Open Data

There is a delicious irony in having the Mayor, Tony Van Bynen – a self proclaimed champion of super fast broadband – support the stripping out of key data from the Town’s website. Van Bynen should be leading the open data revolution instead of air brushing the record and covering things up.

Van Bynen’s other top priority for this term is reforming the OMB

“to ensure our residents have a say in shaping their community”.

Anyone who wants information on Glenway – surely one of the most controversial planning issues in the Town’s history – must now contact the Town’s Planning Department via the Glenway Application page. Information on the facilitated Glenway Lessons Learned meeting and the highly revealing Glenway "Questions and Answers" can now be accessed courtesy of the Planning Department.

The useful “information reports” which used to appear sequentially by date in the section dealing with agendas and meetings have disappeared as a discrete part of the website. These were required under Procedural By Law 2013 – 46 to be posted on line. Where are they now? Using the advanced search function using the exact phrase “information report” throws up six results. And not all of these are “information reports”.

Back to where I started

Now I type in the search box “Heritage Conservation District”.

I click on the highlighted link to District Plan and it takes me to “Planning Documents and Application Forms”. I scroll to Heritage Conservation District Plan and click to open the highlighted text and it takes me straight back to where I started – not to the plan itself.

With a developer salivating at the prospect of building a condo in the heart of the heritage conservation district, it shouldn’t be this difficult for the public to check out the Town’s official policy for the area.

There is simply no reason to hoard information. It distorts public policy and leads to terrible planning blunders like Glenway. And even if secrecy is in Tony Van Bynen’s DNA, it shouldn’t be allowed to infect the whole body politic.  

There is no indication the Town’s new website is still under construction. I’d like to think it is work in progress but I fear not.

As it stands it is not fit for purpose.

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Update 13 August 2015: My spies tell me there is no conspiracy. Just another cock-up. Someone, somewhere gave the go-ahead to switch on the new site before all the necessary documentation had been converted to comply with Provincial accessibility legislation and uploaded. I am told that "eventually" all documents will be available on line. I think we need a deadline for this work to be completed - and a note on the Home Page indicating the website is still under construction.


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