Friday 10 May 2013

Policies & Planning (or Money v Integrity)

The attached link is a podcast of a council planning meeting - round two which was adjourned from its first incarnation in April. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of listening to me rant on facebook or talked to me in the pub or around the village, this concerns a battle that has been raging for 9 months or so now - ever since a few people were spotted mooching around a field behind our village last summer...

So Richborough "buys up" 20 acres of green field site on the edge of our village, pending planning permission to build 148 houses. A greenfield site, protected by all sorts of laws and policies - or so we thought. Mr Cameron himself protects us - Hands Off Our Land: Housing estates will not be 'plonked' next to villages, he tells us in the Telegraph in 2012. This is an estate that will be accessible only through one small cul-de-sac off an existing small estate, in a small village that has one co-op, two pubs, a post office, chip shop and tiny Victorian primary school, which is full. There are already village kids who can't get primary school places and neighbouring primary schools are also full.

Moulton is one of a handful of villages in the country with only one road in and out. Main Road is a dead-end. The Victorian layout and sharp corners make it difficult and dangerous for buses and delivery lorries which frequently mount the pavement to get by.

Now nobody is against development per-se. But it needs to be sustainable. This proposal would increase the size of the village by 15%. There's nothing in this application that benefits our village at all - even the people who buy these new houses will lose out (they'll be living on land that floods regularly, on an estate with one narrow way in and out, in a village where the nearest "service centre" for doctors, dentists, etc is a couple of miles away, with a school that has no places). In fact the only beneficiaries appear to be Richborough Estates who would have a parcel of land with a much higher value on it if it had planning permission attached. But hey, that's what all these planning policies are for, surely? To protect our precious environment. To ensure that things are fair, that they work, that everybody is happy?

No. Apparently not. 

The school is full. Site constraints make it near-impossible to expand. No problem. The developers bung some money at the council and that's sorted. Where do the kids actually go to school, then? Doesn't matter - it's not relevant and not a reason to refuse a planning application. The road infrastructure won't support more traffic. No problem. The developers bung some money at the council and that's sorted. There's insufficient play facilities to meet current requirements for play space for children. No problem. The developers bung some money at the council and that's sorted. But there is nowhere else to build a new play area (because they built houses on the last one...). Doesn't matter - it's not relevant and not a reason to refuse a planning application.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

To consider a planning application, various bodies have to submit reports. Education department, highways department, etc etc. Most of the reports seem to be desk assessments based on information submitted by the applicant. Hmmm - spot the bias there? As it happened, the education people didn't get their reports done in time which is why the first planning application was deferred to the recent meeting a few days ago.

And at the recent meeting, the helpful council advisors advise the planning committee that they have no grounds to refuse the application, that all the policies to protect us bear no weight against the apparent "need" for more housing in the area. There are huge developments going on in a ten mile radius - who is buying all these houses? There are houses for sale in the village now - from terraces to four-bedroom detached houses - and I don't see a queue of people fighting to buy them. There are many brownfield sites locally that would benefit from redevelopment - but that costs more money, doesn't it? Not quite as attractive a proposition as a nice green field...

Fortunately our committee see sense and reject the application. And our ever-helpful legal team advise them that they have no grounds, that when it goes to appeal they will personally have to give evidence to back-up their vote, that they will cost the council huge sums of money in legal costs. Yes, it's down to money again, isn't it? Money versus integrity. 

Thank God for integrity. Despite the bullying tactics, the vote had been cast and was irrevocable. Our councillors vowed to stand-up for their beliefs. And the battle was won. With one of the biggest cases the council had ever seen - in terms of numbers of objections raised - we now have to go and fight the rest of the war at the inevitable appeal.

But it all makes you wonder, doesn't it? Cameron says one thing, local councils do another. Plans and policies change so fast, nobody can keep up and the greedy developers latch on to the confusion and stick their applications in. But where will we be in 20 years time when we've destroyed our countryside to line the pockets of people who don't give a shit?

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