Thursday, 29 September 2011

Planning and the end of allotments

I have been listening to the arguments about the planning system for years and years. It has been loaded heavily in favour of developers and large companies for as long as I can remember. When an application is made to build a group of new homes or a new super store it can be turned down with local politicians making a big fuss about how they have protected the local area from the blight of development, knowing that the applicant will appeal to the central planning appeal who often approve the application, but with some modifications. There is no appeal for the locals to prevent an application that has been granted by either process.

There has long been the cosy process where some large company and a local council cooperate to allow some improvement, such as a new road using an unused part of the company's land who miraculously get granted planning permission either to extend their site or build lucrative housing on other land they own.

The current planning guidelines insist that most new houses are tiny boxes with no gardens because they must meet a criteria to cram a certain number of homes into each hectare. They have stupid restrictions that minimise the size of driveways so second cars end up being parked on the roads, blocking the footpaths and cycleways the council insisted on.

All of this, and much more, is badly in need of change, so when I heard the Government was reforming the planning laws I was hopeful. In addition they trailed it by saying that local people would gain more control over the process. As soon as I saw the minister in charge was Mr Pickles my heart sank. I don't believe he is fit to lead a dog for a walk and certainly not lead a Government department and the fiasco he has produced confirms my belief. Actually I don't believe Mr Pickles did write the document, but he is the front man for it.

The essence of the proposed reform is that planning applications in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding natural Beauty and existing green belt will be resisted, but everywhere, everywhere else the presumption will be to approve development of any kind except for coal mines. There will be no option for locals to appeal so developers will have a free-for-all. The worst is that these changes are supposed to promote growth. Great. Lets chase growth by smothering the country with concrete.

Green field sites are an obvious target, but that requires services, like water, gas etc to be extended to the new area. This makes allotments look very vulnerable. Plots of land inside villages, towns and cities, like allotments, are already close to facilities and services so building on them would be easy and cheaper. Cash-strapped councils would make a tidy sum from selling the land for development. You don't think it will happen? Well I want to be sure and the only way is to ensure these outrageous plans are scrapped.

I want the planning laws reformed, but not scrapped. Please write to your MP to object to a free-for-all for developers and to encourage real reform, allowing local plans to determine the local priorities and to remove the opportunities for corrupt and disingenuous practices. If you want any and every piece of green space concreted over don't bother.

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