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Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Cost of Localism

I have blogged many times on the sham localism espoused by the coalition government. How local people don't have any real say in how their locality is developed apart from condoning the local authority plan. A local plan through which unelected officers constantly pressurise our elected councillors to increase the number of houses to be built in order to have it approved by Westminster.

Over the last few weeks, in my role as chairman of the Illogan planning committee, it has also become clear how much the odds are stacked against local people in economic terms as well as democratic terms.

One application on the boundary of Illogan illustrates this well. The owners of the award winning holiday village of Gwel an Mor want to renegue on their committment to build more holiday let chalets. They now want them to become permanent residences. Their reason is because they aren't able to sell the chalets off plan and without selling the chalets they can't fund further development of the site. Of course the thrust of their argument concentrates on the jobs that will be provided and the additional leisure facilities that might be available to the local community if only they are allowed to build full time residences instead of holiday lets.

The planning statement that covers the application is basically pages and pages of rehashing of the NPPF with a sprinkling of the 'emerging' Cornwall Local Plan. This means it is full of jargon and rhetorical hyperbolae and almost devoid of any substance as to why the application is actually in line with any development plan. The problem is that unless you are a planning professional in some way it is very hard to see through it. It takes a determination to do background reading of hundreds of pages of, quite frankly, boring rubbish to distill what is being (not) said.

The result of this is that concerned locals don't have a chance to even begin to object in the language required to be effective. Locals who have a gut feeling about the harm and damage that will be done tend to talk about a loss of a view rather than restate policy numbers x, y and z and, of course, the loss of a view is not a 'materila planning consideration'. The point that I am trying to make is that local residents and volunteers on parish councils are not paid professionals. The planning system is rigged, it is equivalent to sending a bunch of teenage conscripts to fight an elite, and well equiped, veteran regular army regiment - as the results all too often show.

The 'Neighbourhood Development Plan' is just about the only weapon that the establishment has provided to combat institutional hyper-development. It is a very ineffective weapon - but it's all we have. The problem is that, yet again, it will cost money. For just a small parish a neighbourhood plan might cost tens of thousands of pounds - for a larger town council the cost might be £100k. Local people will have to fund, through their precepts, the only chance they have of combatting Westminster driven development.

Every way you turn, both institutionally and economically, the fight against unwanted development is stacked against you.

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