Local Planners - Mugged Again

Mark Barrett marknbarrett at googlemail.com
Sun Jan 23 16:36:56 GMT 2011

*Charles Clover: We have all been betrayed to the planning muggers*
Does localism mean power to the people, which the coalition advocated when
in opposition, or does it mean power to local businessmen?
 The Sunday Times
Published: 23 January 2011

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  [image: Charles Clover] One of the things you discover when you take your
turn on the parish council is how many things get built that don’t pay a
blind bit of attention to planning rules. Our council is wondering what to
do about a house that looks entirely different from the one on the plans and
also happens to be in a different location. Then there was one of our pubs.
Somebody stole the tiles from the roof and it fell into disrepair. Then, hey
presto, it had been mysteriously delisted and demolished by a property
developer, who squeezed two executive homes on the same plot, despite a
vigorous campaign by the village to keep the building.

“That’s my boy,” another developer quipped when I moaned about what his ilk
get up to. At such times we amateurs realise that we have been outsmarted by
the professionals. This kind of corporate mugging is quite common,
particularly in small towns that dare to turn down the supermarket chains.

Councillors in Sheringham, Norfolk, voted Tesco down twice, in 2007 and
March 2010, and the supermarket giant lost at appeal after a costly public
inquiry in 2008. Then, in October last year, councillors lost their nerve
and Tesco’s renewed application scraped through by one vote.

The reality of the present system was summed up by Alan Bennett in his diary
in the London Review of Books when he wrote: “The planning process is and
always has been weighted against objectors, who, even if they succeed in
postponing a development, have to muster their forces afresh when the
developer and architect come up with a slightly modified scheme. And so on
and so on until the developer wins by a process of attrition.”

Now I know there are lots of important folk who believe that most of the
opposition to housing developments, wind farms, motorways and so on is
misguided and bad for the economy and that it would be a mistake to give any
more power to Nimbys. Yet I suspect even they like to think that the rules
are fair and that there is some sanction when officials ignore them. At
present, the only way to prove a planning application has been mishandled is
to take out a judicial review, which is so expensive that it is an option
for only the super-rich.

Anyone frustrated by the status quo would have been excited by what the
Tories and Liberal Democrats were saying before the last election. “We will
create a third-party right of appeal [for local people] in cases where
planning applications go against locally agreed plans,” said the Lib Dem
manifesto. The Tories promised: “We will make the system symmetrical by
allowing appeals against local planning decisions from local residents, as
well as from developers.”

So what has happened to making the system fairer now they are in power? We
have the Localism Bill, which had its second reading last week. It contains
some good things, such as returning control over large projects, such as
power stations, to elected ministers instead of unelected experts at the
Infrastructure Planning Commission. But a spectacular omission is any
mention of a third-party right of appeal, or any restriction on the number
of times a developer may appeal with essentially the same scheme, which was
also a pre-election Tory proposal. Some coalition MPs are waking up to the
fact that this looks very much like a betrayal of those who voted for them.

 Having practically invented the concept of localism, the coalitions has now
undermined it The excuses have been pretty shabby so far. Bob Neill, a
junior minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, told
the Commons that the coalition had considered a third-party right of appeal
but decided the better route was to give communities greater control over
what was appropriate development “at the very beginning”.

What he means is that people would have a right to object to things such as
large housing developments at the time of the formation of a local plan — a
very general statement that most people are unlikely to read. This is
essentially the system we have already.

If you are a local resident who didn’t happen to be around when those
discussions took place but were aghast when you saw what was actually going
to be built — tough. You had your say earlier on. And developers would be
able to appeal if your councillors didn’t just wave the beastly thing

The Tories appeared to have been alarmed by a scare campaign by developers
claiming that if local people had even a limited form of appeal against
developments it would curb economic growth. It didn’t stop runaway growth in
Ireland, where residents have had this right for years — or in New Zealand.

Having invented the whole concept of localism, the coalition has now
undermined it. Does localism mean power to the people, which is what we
thought when the coalition parties were in opposition, or does it mean power
to local businessmen?

Residents don’t just need the right to say yes; they need the right to say
no. If people don’t get the chance to turn down a supermarket and for it to
stay turned down because it was a departure from the local plan, then
localism is just another “ism” that has betrayed people and it would appear
the government has been corrupted by power even faster than its predecessor.

Comment (1)

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      - Laurence Tarlo
      - Hazelbury Bryan
   I completely agree. I live in a rural area of natural beauty and have
   seen hideous developments gradually encroach onto what were once green field
   sites. I have also heard rumours of corruption (almost impossible to prove
   in matters of local planning). Perhaps someone should set up a 'name and
   shame' website where people could post photographs of some of the more
   indefensible developments to raise public awareness of this issue.
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