Normally, I would be able to say, ‘another day, another letter’, but in this case this letter appeared on the same day as the previous one!
This one immediately starts off on the wrong foot, by suggesting that my comments were made ‘in the paper’. No, the paper was only reporting on comments made by me, during a meeting of the SHDC Planning Committee, something I often do as the committee chairman.
The writer then goes on to harangue me for reminding the committee that, like it not, gipsies and travellers are treated differently by the planning system. Grabbing my statement by the throat and giving it a damned good shaking, the writer manages to create a rabid froth of rhetoric, claiming that I was part of some sort of cabinet led conspiracy. Apparently, this conspiracy had its origins with the £1m+ Travellers’ site at Holbeach and has now turned its attentions to Gedney, where it is about to somehow ride roughshod over the place.
just for accuracy, assuming that the writer is referring to the planning application H06-0145-13, for only two plots for one family and not a Holbeach sized site, then we’ve already ‘ridden roughshod’ over the village and have now returned to our dark lair in Priory Road.
Oh well, at least I’ve got yet another printable nickname out of this one, ‘Jolly Roger’. I think I might be able to get some sort of flag for that. It can then be hoisted outside Priory Rd on those days my fellow conspirators and I are out and about riding roughshod over other areas of the district.
Nearly every other day now, councillors are being told that they are, ‘key to driving forward the innovations needed to transform local government, so that it can weather the current financial storm being visited upon it by Westminster’.
Along with this often junior government minister uttered blurb, which is actually code for we’re passing the buck – they wouldn’t describe it as a ‘financial storm’, but rather, local government doing its bit – comes advice that the scrutiny process is an integral element in any transformation strategy.
It’s somewhat disingenuous to identify scrutiny as the way forward, given the abysmal record it has even when richly resourced and supported, as in the case of the Parliamentary scrutiny system.
Almost every other week we hear and read statements from various Parliamentary committees, with Keith Vaz and Margaret Hodge having a seemingly insatiable appetite for appearing on our TV screens, with the opening words, “The government needs to….”, yet what difference does it make to what the government actually does?
Translate this to the amateur, volunteer ‘scout master’ world of the local government councillor, where officer support is always at a premium and constantly under threat from the slash and burn economics of deficit reduction, and scrutiny looks more like whistling in the wind, than an insightful process, that can beat a path to innovative service delivery.
By way of a footnote, I would point to the recent revelations regarding the Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust. Lincolnshire County Council has a health scrutiny committee, with South Holland District Council represented by an independent councillor, who takes every opportunity to tell us what the committee is, or more accurately, isn’t doing. I say isn’t doing, because, in theory, if LCC’s scrutiny of our local hospitals was in any way effective, Lincolnshire hospitals wouldn’t have one of the highest abnormal death rates in England would it? Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten themselves completely hung up on the proposed changes to our local ambulance service instead.
I was both interested and concerned to see First, Issue 542, peppered with complaints regarding the relationship between the planning system and Localism, some even calling for the abolition of PINS because, apparently, they don’t get it.
The Localism Act has introduced much confusion for the public when it comes to influencing the planning process. Comments made by members of the public on recent contentious planning applications in my own area, clearly indicate a belief that the Localism Act increases the public’s ability to prevent development from going ahead if enough of them shout loudly enough.
This mis-interpretation of the Localism Act’s intentions is, in turn, increasing pressure on councillors to be more outspoken and forceful when speaking at committee. This pressure is increased further by the Localism Act’s guidance to councillors that advises that they can somehow express an opinion and even campaign on a planning issue, without being accused of pre-determination! I wonder if any high powered planning barrister would be prepared to defend a decision made by a committee populated by such campaigning members?
Whilst I very much sympathise with the councillors who made these comments and understand their wish to represent fully their electorates’ views, I’m afraid it is they, not PINS who don’t get it.
There is a clear need for the government to restate its intentions when it comes to how the Localism Act can be used to influence the planning system – through the process that makes the policy, not the one that determines individual applications.
My best regards,
Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones,
Planning Committee Chairman,
South Holland DC, Lincolnshire