LETTER: Another nail in the coffin of localism

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Because many local authority (LA) and neighbourhood plans have not been adopted, government planning inspectors can often apply presumption-in-favour-of-‘sustainable’-development, risking speculative development at inappropriate locations.

So, Ministers were asked to suspend presumption-in-favour, to allow time for Local Plans to be completed properly, but they have declined to do that.

That is despite Mr Maude’s observation that ‘If planning decisions are taken away from local people, it is likely to breed distrust in the planning system, whilst leaving the countryside without protection’.

Instead, Ministers are making the situation worse, by allowing developers in some areas (including Horsham District) to submit major planning applications, directly to the Planning Inspectorate, bypassing LAs, putting another nail in the coffin of localism.

Of course applications vary in complexity and the quality of local Officer’s decisions must surely be taken into account, including whether optimal community benefit is being obtained and whether damage to the countryside is being minimised. Clearly, the Government should not be bypassing LAs, based on arbitrary numerical targets.

Since most hearings are apparently to be held locally by a Planning Inspector, it is of concern that he/she may not have absorbed all relevant local knowledge, in advance. It would clearly be wrong for his/her decisions to override the concept of localism, based on limited information and on misguided premises.

Also, developers have traditionally co-operated with LAs to provide community benefit and it is most unfortunate that the Government’s latest move is likely to reduce (if not remove) the incentive for developers to co-operate in that way.

Even if HDC’s performance is proved to be inadequate, residents are entitled to ask how their views and local knowledge are going to be properly taken into account (by an Inspector) as they were led to expect.

With its latest move the Government is driving a coach and horses through the concept of localism, increasing the risk of unnecessary damage to our beautiful countryside, whilst prejudicing the ability of LAs to extract appropriate benefit.

In 2011, we were told that (under localism) ‘Government is abolishing Labour’s Regional Strategies and putting elected local councillors back in charge, accountable to local people via the ballot box’. In reality it is MPs that will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2015, by the people that they have misled.

Roger Arthur

(UKIP) Horsham district councillors for Ashington, Thakeham, West Chiltington and Wiston