All is not well down in the countryside. Hot on the heels of the failed community opposition to Brian’s mega dairy, the current edgy story in the Archers is hotting up for a dramatic showdown. Is life imitating art, or vice versa? If it’s the latter, we’re destined to hear increasing numbers of contentious planning focussed themes in the near future.
Two events from the past week point to the trend. The first involved planning committee members refusing outline permission for a 450-home scheme to the north of Basingstoke, against the officers’ report and the advice that the scheme would deliver housing development in accordance with local land supply requirements. The second, a small village meeting in Somerset, was organised by neighbours and the parish council to oppose an application for nine retirement homes, on a greenfield site identified under existing Local Plan Policies, in the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) and the emerging draft Core Strategy.
What is common to both is the wave of conviction from the public and local politicians that they have been liberated by the Localism Act, and the NPPF, both now some 3 months old, from the pressures to accept unpopular development. These expectations have been raised by politicians with their description of the new planning regime as the ‘Government’s revolution to hand power back to local communities’, and then fed by certain sections of the media. All seem to major on the premis that ‘planners’ are out of step with community interests. What none of these voices have spoken about, however, are the responsibilities that have been placed on local people in taking control of the choices and chances to shape the future of their local area. In the absence of strategic planning, and the evidence base needed to ensure joined-up thinking, society as a whole will have to learn to take a broad, and possibly painful, approach to directing much-needed development to the best and most sustainable places.
In his announcement, made last Friday, of further simplification of the planning system, Planning Minister Greg Clark commented that ”Our reforms to the planning system are making it simpler, clearer and more accessible”. That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, another comment is also relevent here, also made on Friday by David Lock to the SW RTPI annual dinner in Taunton. He said “the cold reality is that local planning authorities must now confront real life needs for homes and jobs. They cannot hide from those pressures, or divert them elsewhere. The burden of responsibility that comes with freedom is coming home to roost”. Back to the Archers!