A Royal Wedding and an FA Cup Final – A good time to bury fracking bad news

Click on the photo to above to enlarge it

Fracking is a hugely controversial environmental issue. What’s more its happening on Sefton Borough’s doorstep and this proposed relaxation of planning rules is clearly aimed at smoothing the process of getting it started across the UK.

Of course Fracking is also a vision of the past because its a fossil fuel and not sustainable energy. The more we use fossil fuels the faster we accelerate global warming and make the lives of future generations more difficult.

But of course we all know all this so the big issue here was to bury the matter whilst eyes were turned on a royal wedding and the FA Cup Final. Some things never change and Governments of all colours do it because it works and we are easily distracted form the really important things.

With thanks to Cliff Mainey and Roy Connell for the lead to this posting.

The Fylde, Quadrilla and Planning – Some thoughts

No this is not another rehearsal of the wrongs of fracking which worry us all but more the planning process that goes on within Councils over highly controversial issues like this. Let’s start with the news that Lancashire Planning Officers have made a recommendation that will see fracking start in Fylde Borough if councillors vote to accept their report next week – see link below to the BBC news item:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-33132569

Planning Officers always try to teach, or is that indoctrinate, councillors that planning is simply a matter of interpreting planning law, guidance and policy to define whether a proposed plan is acceptable or not. Of course that says nothing for the real world of politics, lobbying and the pressure that elected councillors can be put under.

Imagine you are a councillor in Lancashire at present representing the Fylde and you are on the Planning Committee. You would be subject to all kinds of pressure in the form of massive Council reports, lobbying of campaigners, e-mails by the dozens from concerned citizens saying what will happen to your electoral chances if you vote the wrong way and amongst this you may even get some mail from supporters of fracking.

Now what do you do at the Planning Committee meeting when you are sat there with the eyes of the world seemingly on you, as it is you has to make the decision?

You could simply vote against the officers recommendation with a beggar the consequences approach. After all the applicant will simply appeal the decision and a Government appointed Planning Inspector will make the decision for you. Job done, you have done the right thing electorally and the Planning Inspector gets the blame if he/she gives the plan the nod.

You could look to bring in more delaying tactics in the hope that in the intervening time something will come along to make things easier. I have seen this done a few times, particularly by Labour on Sefton’s Planning Committee, by proposing a deferral. In fact usually not much changes but the process can give campaigners the feeling that they may be winning when all that is happening is that local politicians are playing for time.

You could just vote for fracking because if you represent a ward that is not likely to be affected by it in the foreseeable future then your calculation could be that your electorate will not be much bothered. This calculation is I suspect usually right but this is a big, big issue.

Members of the real planning committee will be going through all these thoughts and more as they are pulled one way then the other. Planning committees usually endorse what planning officers recommend but when the wheels are coming off politically you can bet that the control that the officers usually like to have have over planning members is simply not there.

By the way the real issue will be what the majority political group do on the Planning Committee. Yes I know that the rules say that there can be no whipping on a planning committee but votes can often go down party political lines in the real world.

Who would be a Planning Committee member with such decisions to take?

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.

Home extension charges to be scrapped? But what about the environment!

The Government is planning to scrap local authority charges for extensions to family homes and conversions of annexes into granny flats. Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, wants to stop councils imposing “section 106” levies on homeowners. Small builders will also no longer have to pay the charges, which can reach £32,000 for permission to build a two-storey, three-bedroom house. Mr Pickles will begin a consultation this week on abolishing section 106 charges, which are imposed to raise money for affordable housing. Meanwhile, in her column for the Sun, Sarah Beeney says that the planning system should be put out to tender. She suggests that in order to end local authorities’ “absolute monopoly” on the system, people should be able to seek planning permission either from their own local authority or from one of two neighbouring councils.

Above is a story from the LGiU.

Now then, let’s have a think about the implications of what Sarah Beeney is said to be promoting. If you live in Sefton, for example, we are surrounded by just 3 neighbouring Councils i.e. West Lancs, Knowsley and Liverpool. Under what she is suggesting, according to the LGiU, people wishing to build in the Borough could apply for planning permission from 2 of our 3 neighbouring Councils (which would be selected by tender?) as alternatives to applying for such permission from Sefton.

The obvious things that come to mind are:-

* People would select the local authority/service provider that charged the least for an application.
* People would select the Council/service provider that seemingly passed the most applications.
* Planning Officers, who review all applications, based in say Liverpool may not know much at all about say Southport.
* Residents opposing applications may have to try to lobby councillors on a Planning Committee that no one in their council area has elected?

Gaining planning permission can be a hugely contentious process and I would be the very last person to say the present system works well, but would Sarah’s suggestion really be an improvement?

Planning policies, as I have said before on this site, do need reform as they are seriously flawed. Present policies do not, in my view, place enough weight on environmental considerations such as flooding and the utter madness of building on high grade agricultural land. The bottom line is that Planning should not be dominated by economic factors; environmental sustainability should be paramount if we are serious about passing on to future generations places where we would both want to and be able to live sustainably.