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The Planning System

The planning system offers virtually no room at all for local involvement. Even where residents, local councillors and elected MPs are united in determined opposition to a given plan, their wishes can be, and so often are, simply brushed aside by remote and unaccountable planning bureaucrats. Like many people, I have experienced this first hand.
When a retail site fell vacant on White Hart Lane in Barnes a couple of years ago, Sainsbury’s snapped it up. Local people were enraged. The last thing they wanted was a large new store undermining the local independents, bringing more traffic into a residential area, with large delivery lorries rumbling up and down the street. The Council was bombarded with letters of protest from residents, and in response it rejected the application.

Astonishingly the decision was then overruled by the National Planning Inspectorate in Bristol – over 100 miles away from Barnes.

I believe communities offer the best possible hedge against continued social and environmental instability, and their protection should be a priority. That requires among other things, a re-think of Planning– and a shift towards a much more localized, democratic approach.
The Government appears to be taking action to help local people protect the character of their area and empower councillors to stop inappropriate developments. The Department for Communities and Local Government has removed gardens from the definition of brownfield land in Planning Policy Statement 3, and has abolished national ‘density targets’. Rules are also being changed so that local Councillors can campaign on behalf of their constituents without fear of breaking the rules of ‘pre-determination’ and losing their right to vote.

I am hoping that the Localism Bill will give local residents the opportunity to decide what developments are appropriate for their area, but it is not yet clear what the changes will mean on the ground. Will residents be able to stop inappropriate developments? Will green spaces, and in particular the green belt, be protected if residents want them protected? Will residents be able to influence the design of new developments so that they are in keeping with surrounding areas? I had hoped the answer would be ‘yes’ to all these questions, but it remains unclear, and I have written a number of letters to Ministers seeking clarity.


(Page last updated 2013)