Planning – A most frustrating & often futile local council function

I spent 16 years as a Borough Councillor and for the last two of those years I sat on the Planning Committee, something I said I would never do. You see some councillors fall head over heels in love with planning and the mere suggestion they should maybe just possibly sit on another committee instead could lead to all kinds of emotional turmoil. I didn’t then and I still don’t get what the draw of the planning committee is but accept that to others being on such a committee is a bit like what Bill Shankly said of football i.e. Somebody said that football’s a matter of life and death to you, I said ‘listen, it’s more important than that.

Why are pretty much all governments determined to build as little social housing as possible?

My problem with planning is that government has far too much say on what is built and it issues more laws and regulations on the subject than it does on its continual reorganisations the NHS, and that takes some doing! Governments of all colours are obsessed with house building, because we have a housing shortage, yet their new laws and regulations always end up with the wrong type (never any or enough social housing) of houses being built in the wrong places. Well at least that seems very often be the end result no matter what the intension was.

Just contact a councillor if you are concerned about a planning application

Local residents who wish to engage in the planning process often think that lobbying members of their local planning committee, or indeed any other local councillors, will lead to significant changes being made to the plan they don’t much care for. Yet in reality the room for manoeuvre that a planning committee actually has is very small indeed. Planning in my view, having experienced it from the 1980’s onwards, is a developer’s charter dressed up as a meaningful even a democratic process.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development via the then draft Local Plan in June 2013.

Local and Neighbourhood Plans

I got involved in Sefton’s Planning Committee in my final years on the Council for one reason only, to try to stop its appalling Local Plan from being rubber stamped. I failed miserably I might add and that plan is now being used to concrete and tarmac over acre upon acre of high grade agricultural (land which feeds us) across the Borough. As a Lydiate Parish Councillor, after I had left the Borough Council, I also took part in the putting together of a Neighbourhood Plan for Lydiate. And yes it’s a good document which a number of people who are really committed to Lydiate put together for all the right reasons. However, I’m far from convinced that Neighbourhood Plans are anything but a small sticking plaster on a planning system which is hugely failing every community across England.

And then I came across this – see link below:-

Our vision for planning

www.cpre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Joint-vision-for-planning-January-2021.pdf

Clearly it’s a worthy attempt to bring some sort of reason to the planning process, although history teaches us it will end in failure as government really does seem to want a planning system which simply rubber stamps the building of pretty much anything anywhere. I’d like to think I am wrong of course but the cynic in me says I’m far more likely to be right sadly.

So how do Planning Committees work?

Well as planning is a quasi-judicial process it has many rules and regulations and often a contentious matter before a committee is a little like a court room drama with witnesses for the defence and prosecution. It can look very well and proper to an impartial observer yet of course the members of any planning committee are not actually free to do what they think is right by their community. They are very much constrained by reports from council officers which detail law, regulation and common practice. If they go against such reports, by say refusing an application which professional officers say they should back, then straight away the chances of the applicant winning on appeal are very much higher.

And some pretty odd things happen too. Did you read about the decision of a planning committee in Bath to refuse a 5G mast application? It’s one of those things which can be seen differently by differing participants and observers of the decision. Supposedly, much of the opposition to the mast was associated with the alleged, but certainly false, claims about the health problems associated with 5G. Of course a planning committee, even if it believed the fake news, could not use such a reason to refuse a mast as the plan would be granted on appeal without a shadow of a doubt. So what does a planning committee under huge pressure do? It will want to be seen as backing its community but if it goes anywhere near 5G conspiracy theories as a reason for refusal it will be in deep trouble. So it obviously used other reasons, within planning law and regulation, to oppose the mast only to then be accused of in effect hiding the real reason for refusal.

No planning for me as a process was as futile in practice as I long suspected it would be before I got seriously involved in it. And now having upset many a former political colleagues with my views (which should not surprise them really) I’ll await them telling me how wrong I am and how fulfilling the life of a planning committee member can be. Planning is like marmite, you love it or hate it and I know where I stand………

Lydiate – The ‘scale’ of the Lydiate Neighbourhood Plan

If you live in Lydiate you should have had a leaflet from the Parish Council in the past week or so all about the proposed Neighbourhood Plan for the Civil Parish of Lydiate.

It was not a bad leaflet actually apart from one rather surprising word in it. That word was ‘scale’ and the context in which the words was used is this:-

‘Influencing the scale and design of new [housing] developments’

Now, what can’t a Neighbourhood Plan do? It can’t be at odds with the Borough’s (in our case Sefton Borough) Local Plan. That means, as far as housing is concerned, that Lydiate’s Neighbourhood Plan can’t say that less houses should be built in Lydiate but it can say that more housing should be built.

Now look at the sentence the word ‘scale’ is used in again and remember that the only influence the Lydiate Neighbourhood Plan can have on house numbers is to increase the number to be built. So why say ‘scale’ unless you mean you really do wish to up the number of houses that are to be built?

Could it be that Lydiate Parish Council are mistakenly of the view that their Neighbourhood Plan can reduce the number of houses that are going to be built? Frankly, I would find that rather hard to believe as I have heard professional planners make it so clear so often that a Neighbourhood Plan can’t propose that less houses be built than the number in the Borough Council’s Local Plan.

Is Labour-led Lydiate Parish Council seriously suggesting therefore that even more Green Belt and high grade agricultural land be concreted over for additional houses? Frankly, I would doubt it as the Lydiate electorate has recently taught Labour a very hard lesson about being straight with them over the Green Belt. So what on earth do they mean by the word ‘scale’?

CPRE – Green Belt policy should be strategic

In a letter to the Observer, Matt Thomson of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England says that planning policy allows for the review of the green belt boundaries in appropriate circumstances. However, the CPRE would prefer to see this done strategically rather than through the current piecemeal erosion. He suggests that any review would have to take into account the needs of the whole of the relevant green belt area and consider the reasons for designating land in the first place.

The Observer covered this story.

Now despite my being a little uncertain about CPRE (previous postings refer about their Sefton Branch) this is an important point. Environmental campaigners are not trying to defend every single piece of Greenbelt and in some exceptional circumstances there are plots of land within it that can be sensibly developed. The Ashworth South site in Maghull being a clear example of this. BUT in the vast majority of circumstances Green Belt should remain just that. Not only that but where Green Belt is also high grade agricultural land the answer always should be no, no, no to development. And it is this latter point that groups like CPRE need to fight for in my view.

With thanks to LGiU for the lead to this story.

Public urged to find neglected sites

A website launched recently by the Cabinet Office urges members of the public to find neglected government-owned buildings that could be sold. The site lists around 31,000 publicly owned assets and is intended to encourage individuals and organisations to challenge central and local government about underused property. Under a “right to contest” introduced in January, anyone can now force the government to explain why a building or plot is not being used fully and, if the department that owns it cannot justify its current use, it will be forced to release it for sale.

The site is reached via the link below and it is quite interesting to see what information is held on it if you put in a community name and search for Government owned land:-

www.gov.uk/find-government-property

The Guardian originally ran this story

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this posting

Abolish all planning rules! – Utter madness I say

Planning rules should be abolished

Architect Karl Sharro writes in the Times that with the provision of new homes at historically low levels, we must sweep aside all planning rules and let people build what they want. He explains that the planning system continues to artificially restrict the supply of land available for development, while also making the process of obtaining a planning permission lengthy, complicated and costly. He says the planning system was created for a different era, initially its aim was for the construction of new towns and homes. However, today planning is more concerned with controlling development rather than encouraging it. As well as abolishing planning controls, Mr Sharro suggests that planning departments are transformed to regain their original purpose: creating development rather than stifling it.

Today – The Sunday, News Review, Page: 7

How on earth does this makes sense? Instead of us trying to sensibly control what is built where this ‘plan’ is to seemingly to let anything happen anywhere! We need more control over building on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not less. Indeed, we need a total ban on building high grade agricultural land if we are to leave any food growing places for future generations.