A New National Group 31 March 2014
A new national group, Community Voice on Planning, met this weekend in Congleton following an inaugural meeting last month in Wantage, Oxfordshire. The group, which has representative member groups from across the length and breadth of the country has been set up to provide a united national voice for those groups protesting against over-development, particularly on green areas, and is against undemocratic decision-making in the planning system. The meeting was hosted in Congleton to make it easier for groups in the midlands and the north west to send representatives. Representatives from Cheshire, Devon, Bristol, Oxfordshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire attended.
At the moment, said a spokesperson, the planning system appears to have been designed in response to intensive lobbying from the construction industry and the voices and wishes of local communities are being ignored. The Planning Minister claims that it is local communities that are making the decisions, but this is clearly wishful thinking. Local councils are setting high development targets in response to Government pressure, regardless of local opinion or the common sense of such proposals. Where Local Strategic Plans are not in place, the opinion of the local community and even of Local Planning Authorities is ignored. Decision-making is in the hands of developers and unelected planning officers. This whole situation has been made worse by the National Planning Policy Framework and the guidance for Planning Officers and The Planning Inspectorate which is clearly biased in favour of developers.
In every region of England there are protest groups desperate to save cherished green areas or to see truly sensible and sustainable development for the benefit of their communities. The current system is promoting acres of look-alike estates with little in the way of supportive infrastructure. Investment for jobs and commercial opportunities, other than the short-term profit of the construction industry, are conspicuous by their absence in this rush to build. In many rural areas, the economic viability of farming and tourism, even though these may be the mainstays of the local economy, are being under-mined or destroyed by this policy. In many areas too, the results of the short-sightedness of ignoring significant material considerations has been shown by the wide-spread destruction of this winter’s floods. To add insult to injury, the small affordable homes that are urgently needed by young local people, are not being built.
The political parties in the country appear to be vying with each other to proclaim that they will build more. In most rural areas, where public transport and jobs tend to be sparse, or non-existent, it is necessary to promote extensive inward migration in order to fill the housing and this produces an equal pressure on road systems. Meanwhile, in the great metropolitan areas there are thousand of brownfield sites standing empty and unused. The only truly sustainable development would be in these cities where there are jobs, support services and public transport. This would not, of course, fill the coffers of developers to the same extent as currently, but it would leave something other than vast urban sprawls for our children and grandchildren.
The challenge for those who oppose the current system is to make the politicians listen and learn. Ultimately, this may only happen through the ballot box, but at the moment local and national politicians are seeking to escape the blame by pointing the finger at each other. There are many who would claim that nothing is wrong because all that we need is more houses anywhere. This is not a planning system, but a free-for-all where money and the construction industry lobby shouts the loudest. We need to re-assert our rights as citizens and hold the people responsible for this mess in our communities to account.