Planning after Localism event

I attended a Westminster Briefing event in London  today, in an attempt to get a better handle on how to make the new system work at the district council level.

There was a very clear feeling amongst those attending, that the new system of neighbourhood planning, if it was to become a success, would need a significant amount of resource putting in.  There was also a feeling that the minister was being extremely optimistic in his belief that neighbourhood planning would bring about any real increase in the number of houses delivered.

Most people also questioned how the New Homes Bonus (NHB), having been created by taking money away from councils in the first place, could be seen as an incentive to councils and communities to build more houses based on increased benefits to the community, as it was likely that most councils would simply use it to plug the funding gap that was now being imposed by government – the lord giveth and the lord taketh away as they say, except in the case of NHB, it’s the other way around – the gov takes it and then gives it back, if you do their bidding!

I asked Bob Neill the minister, who spoke at today’s event, how councils would be able to identify how much extra cash they had been given in the grant settlement, to help communities produce their plans, when councils didn’t know how many communities might want to produce a plan in the first place?  I think he said they were working on it and that I should ask the question as part of the consultation currently going on!

All a bit disappointing really, as I think neighbourhood and community plans could be a very good thing for people to get involved in producing.  Not only would it give them a much greater stake in the way their local area is to be developed, it would also help to get people involved in the planning process in a much more positive and long-term way than they do currently.

Unfortunately, unless the local planning authority has the right level of expertise and resource, it is likely that they are either going to avoid encouraging communities to produce plans, or worse still, actually frustrate the ambitions of those that want to produce a plan, by offering only the very minimum of assistance.

This is a great opportunity for us to show some real leadership and encouragement to our communities, but only if we have the right level of resources to do it well.

MPs discuss 3rd party right of appeal on planning applications

Having been hyper critical of government ministers and their attitude to both local government and in particular the planning function of councils, I was somewhat heartend to read details of the committe that is currently working on the Localism Bill.  Read the whole by using this link.

via New Clause 11: 10 Mar 2011: Public Bill Committees (

One statement from Greg Clark in particular gave me some hope that elected members were not to be side-lined in favour of unelected local activist groups, whose only goal might be to prevent any development going ahead, however much it was needed. 

“The next question is: if there are to be exceptional departures from the plan, who should decide whether that is in the community’s interest? We have a choice between an unelected body—the Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol—or elected local councillors. It is consistent with the type of approach that we want that that power should be vested in local democratically elected and accountable people. They have access to members of the community. They represent the community. They can make a more sensitive judgment than would be possible if the matter were contracted to a third party.”

No doubt some will read this and say, ‘typical politician, just looking to make sure he keeps all the power, so that he can ignore the wishes of local people’.  I would like to hope that those who know me, know that whilst I might have a big mouth, I don’t have a particularly big ego and could never be accused of trying to lord it over others.  I hate with a passion any attempt by those in power to either misuse or abuse it.  I likewise believe that everybody deserves to be treated equally and fairly.

Whatever some people might think of local politicans, they are elected by local people and therefore, unlike any pressure group, have a mandate (from those local people) to act and speak on their behalf.  Today’s report of Greg Clark’s comments to the Parliamentary committee, give me some hope that he agrees.

Stupid stupid stupid

I like using film quotes to mimic what’s going on in real life; I just wish I could remember more of them.  However, one does keep coming back to me time and time again since the coalition government came to power and decided to mess about with the planning system – again!

The quote I’m thinking of comes from the 1997 Matt Damon and Danny Divto film called Rainman and goes some thing like, ‘you must be stupid stupid stupid’.  The whole quote is (just in case you’re interested) and read out by an insurance company executive whilst under cross examination:   “Dear Mrs. Black. On seven prior occasions this company has denied your claim in writing. We now deny it for the eighth and final time. You must be stupid stupid stupid. Sincerely, Evert Luftkin, Vice President, Claims Department.”

I could quite happily rewrite this to apply to those in government, who keep sniping and criticising the planning system and blaming all the ills of the country on it.  Don’t get me wrong, the system’s not perfect far from it and if I were somebody trying to get a planning permission and finding myself fighting an uphill battle, I might well have the same attitude – it’s all the b***dy planners fault.

However, those in government who are so critical, should actually know better, after all it they (the government of the day) and not the planners, who write the rules; the planners merely interpret and implement them via local policies.  It’s also worth remembering that those policies are approved by local politicians and not planners

So, Dear Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne, Me Cable, Mr Pickles, Mr Neill, Mr Clark and even Mr Shapps (who seems happy to use Eric Pickles as his rolling, sorry I meant roving, assassin), on at least seven prior occasions, the planners have written to you refuting your claims.  We now write to you again, for the umpteenth and final time to tell you the same thing. You must be …………..Sincerely, a profession trying to do your bidding.

So, ministers, stop whinging on about how it’s all somebody else’s fault, put your pens where your mouths are and get YOUR planning legislation changed.  Then perhaps those of us at the sharp end, who are trying make some sense of the mess you’ve made of it so far, can get on with making it work – again!

Osborne now does planning – apparently!

You really couldn’t make this up, without being laughed at and yet it’s really happening.  Eric Pickles has decided that councils don’t known what they’re are doing when it coming to planning and has decided that a free for all is okay, as long as ‘the community’ agrees – it’s called Localism.

Meanwhile, the Tory chief bean counter, George Osborne, has decided that Vince Cable is actually the real expert on all things planning and has decided that if all the planning rules, along with the views of communities (remember that’s called Localism), were kicked in to touch, the country would be flourishing again by a week on Thursday!

So Pickles doesn’t like the planners and wants ‘the people’ to do it all and Osborne doesn’t like the planners or ‘the people’ and wants business to be able to do what the hell it likes!  Oh and by the way, just in case you didn’t realise, Pickles, Osborne and Cable are all supposedly on the same side!  Like I said, you couldn’t make it up.

Follow the link to read the full story, on how George Osborne wants to turn every high street into the American dream – to hell with what it looks likes, as long as they are all paying taxes.