Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Who to blame when everything falls apart: the politics of planning decisions

It is widely expected that UKIP will do very nicely from the 'anti-politics' stalking the land:
On the campaign trail with UKIP - GQ.COM (UK)
Farage and Ukip ride ‘anti-politics’ wave - FT.com
Nigel Farage, the anti-politician » Spectator Blogs
A vote for Ukip is neither radical nor anti-politics | Comment is free | The Guardian
Opposition getting desperate as UKIP gains momentum in by-election

On a local level, it seems that party politics is also out of favour - with support for independents growing across the land:
Community activist to stand for local election in Birmingham | The Voice Online
- A NEW County Councillor has been elected for the Betws yn Rhos ward, in Conwy County.

In East Devon, Independent Councillor Claire Wright notes how politicians seem all too ready to blame public bodies and public officers when there are problems - whether it's flooding or other issues:

What the Environment Agency says about the way MPs have behaved over the 
Somerset Levels flooding

Monday, 10 February 2014 2 Comments by Claire

I have just been sent the following set of messages from an Environment Agency board member.

I am very glad that they have come out fighting. It is deplorable that the government is (nastily) blaming the EA for the dreadful Somerset Levels flooding problems when the EA is only following rules set by ministers ... who are incidentally, massively cutting budgets at a time when more funding than ever is required.

It reminds me of the another favourite game of (conservative) MPs. Stay quiet on the damaging national planning policy framework… and then blame the planning inspectorate when a planning application is allowed on appeal. A deceitful approach that should play no part in politics. I very much hope I won’t see it repeated.

It all leaves a bad taste and must be incredibly dispiriting for staff ....... Here are the messages…..

It seems that local politicians are indeed quite ready to point the finger of blame when it comes to bad planning decisions:

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says changes to Green Belt boundaries should only be made through local plans, but the local plan process is forcing all local authorities, even those that have stuck firm, to amend them to include Green Belt reviews as the NPPF requires all plans to meet ‘in full’ the objective need for housing. Local authorities are easy to blame the Planning Inspectorate for overruling them but the inspectorate are blameless as they sit in place of the minister implementing government policy.

When it comes to the vexed issue of planning it seems all too easy to blame the party in power, rather than question the process itself. Here is an example from Huddersfield:

CAMPAIGNERS trying to save green belt sites from mass housing development face uncertainty after Kirklees Council axed its £600,000 planning strategy on Wednesday. The Local Development Framework (LDF) was thrown out amid bitter scenes at a Huddersfield Town Hall meeting. The LDF was criticised by a planning inspector for its housing figures and the council’s failure to consult with neighbouring authorities.

Before the vote the parties played the blame game, with Tory leader Coun Robert Light heading the charge. He said: “Who’s LDF plan was it? Labour’s. Who’s housing numbers was it? Labour’s? Who’s plan did the planning inspector throw out? Labour’s. The plan has gone up in flames because you made a mess of it. We’ll have to live with your incompetence for years. Four-and-a-half years working on a plan that gets thrown out at the first hurdle. That’s a disgrace.”

In East Devon, there has been considerable criticism that the lack of a Local Plan has left the District vulnerable to development:

A new approved Local Plan should have been in place months, if not years, ago and providing clear guidance on local development across East Devon. This delay has now led to the current mess where EDDC, with an out-of-date old Plan and a not-yet-approved draft Plan, is having great difficulty in refusing inappropriate applications for residential development, even where there has been extensive local consultation with residents and preferred sites have been identified.

East Devon Proposed Local Plan Consultation 2012

Others would say it is not the 'fault' of local politicians at all:

Nick Boles is absolutely wrong to be blaming councils for not having up-to-date Local Plans. It was his government's hasty and ill-judged decision to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies which has led to delays in plan preparation programmes.

In East Devon, there has been anxiety not to 'revisit' the whole question of how far these sensitive strategic planning issues were influenced by the East Devon Business Forum - in case it 'delayed' that process:

The Chairman noted that the TaFFs remit was to look at the Council’s process in considering employment land availability but that this should not delay the forthcoming consideration of the Local Plan. It was suggested that there wa no value in revisiting decisions made in the Local Development Framewor meetings’ recommendations.

The District Council itself has stated that too much 'consideration' of the process of putting together the Local Plan would 'delay' matters further:

If the Council choose to undertake significant changes (and this necessitates the need for further consultation) it will delay plan production.


Earlier today, Sidmouth Independent News reported from the first day of the public hearing into the draft Local Plan for East Devon
Futures Forum: Public Examination of the New East Devon Local Plan: opening hearing: Tuesday 11th February
It not only highlighted the Inspector's concerns about transparency, but signalled that, should the Inspector ultimately dismiss the Plan as unsound, then this will leave the District wide open to speculation and development. 

Duty to co-operate

12th February

It is interesting that, on Day 1, the Planning Inspector for EDDC’s Local Plan has picked up on EDDC’s failure to co-operate with adjacent authorities – in this case Exeter and West Dorset. In the case of the latter it appears that only one meeting has ever taken place.

It should be stressed that the duty to co-operate is NOT a duty to agree – but councils have to show that they have had enough discussion with adjacent authorities to make them fully aware of their constraints or needs and to acknowledge these when building their own local plans.

What this shows quite clearly is, firstly, how difficult it is to co-operate with East Devon District Council! We, as residents, have found that EDDC really does not like having to talk to others about what is going on in the district: they prefer to have everything kept “in house” and officers guard their information like it is a hoard of precious gems rather than something to be transparently shared.

It also shows that EDDC relies on “old boy networks” to dispense what little information it allows to get out and to receive what information it gets in. In the case of employment land, it relied far too much on formal and informal contacts with the East Devon Business Forum. We should also bear in mind that former senior EDDC officers are now very senior officers with planning duties in Teignbridge and at Exeter City Council. It may be that the unconscious transfer of information between these authorities (the information already in the heads of said officers) may not always make it to the written word, it being assumed that because they KNOW they have co-operated that should be enough. Good, transparent record keeping and dissemination of information is the key here.

If EDDC falls at this hurdle, it means that we are in free-for-all developer land for many more months and possibly years and a number of local plans of other authorities have already shown how important this step is. EDDC knows this and has known it throughout the lifetime of the production of the Local Plan. Falling at this hurdle will mean some very serious questions about how this could have been allowed to happen.

Of course, there would be many, many people who would be very happy to see falling at this first hurdle happen, just as the problems of bringing the plan to this stage which allowed the current free-for-all must have also made them very happy.

Duty to co-operate | Sidmouth Independent News

See also:
Futures Forum: Independent Councillors - independent voices
Futures Forum: "Independents, Independents, Independents."
Futures Forum: "Planning Minister Nick Boles said there was 'no excuse' for a local authority not putting a local plan in place."
Futures Forum: Five Year Land Supply in East Devon: CPRE
Futures Forum: Lobbying: East Devon Business Forum

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