Lobbying is a time-honoured method of bringing about change in the law or policies. Currently we are in a position where intensive lobbying from the construction industry has been much more successful than any arguments from pressure groups or opponents of unlimited development. Even such high-profile and influential groups as the National Trust and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England have had very limited success in reigning-in the wilder excesses of the planning system and some of this must be put down to the relative strength of the construction industry lobby.
The NPPF is very much a policy that promotes the rights of developers over the democratic wishes of communities. If we want to change this and assert the rights of small local communities to help to shape and plan their own villages and towns, then we need to develop lobbying skills and make political leaders of all parties understand that we, the electorate, will not accept unlimited development. Planning policy is being used as a tool to promote economic growth. This is not sustainable in the long-term and has undoubtedly led to many developments and schemes which are not truly sustainable and which, in many cases, actually harm communities. Problems such as difficulties of assimilation and under-provision of improvements to infrastructure can create lasting problems in some communities. There is nothing new about this. The 1960s provide many examples of well-meaning, but ultimately stupid, planning decisions arising from mis-guided attempts to solve housing crises.
None of the people responsible for this policy are above criticism. They do not have an in-alienable right to rule us and neither are they “right” just because they are in a position of power. We are the electorate and we have given them a temporary right that we can remove at elections. This is the case for councillors at every level and for every Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. The withdrawal of support and votes is also the one action that all politicians who are seeking re-election fear. We should not be afraid to wield that threat. It is our democratic right.
We are all busy fighting the corner in our own localities but we should not forget that a lot of our problems have been caused by the law-makers in Parliament and that even now, in spite of evidence to the contrary such as widespread flooding, they are all, regardless of political affiliation, bent upon increasing housing numbers in a rush and without due concern for, or understanding of, the consequences of this for existing households and communities. Indeed, the situation is likely to get worse. Many areas do not as yet have a Local Plan in place. This is the fault of local councils but the community should not be punished for their failure to deliver. Nor should the government be allowed to get away with pressing the matter in a punitive fashion.
Current proposals coming out of Westminster include increased housing numbers, proposals to abolish safe-guards for the greenbelt and green spaces and proposals to abolish planning permission in rural areas and national parks so that farmers can develop redundant barns into housing. A recent decision in the Supreme Court means that not even areas that have village green status are safe from developers.
We need, therefore to encourage our members to participate in extensive lobbying. We need to get across to the legislators that these policies are vote-losers of enormous proportions. To do this we need to lobby and this means individuals and groups writing to MPs, ministers and members of select committees. This need not be daunting. The important message to get across is that you do not like the policy and that this will affect your voting intentions. You can expand on this simple message as much or as little as you like. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing as an individual or as a group leader but, if the latter, mention how many people you represent. Numbers matter very much in the voting system.