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Conservative Party Green Paper on Planning

February 22, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

In an effort to be first with an informed review of the latest NEWS in planning , I am publishing my immediate reaction to the new Conservative, shadow policy, on Planning.  It was published just this afternoon, 22/2. It was an interesting read of just 20 or so pages.  (That’s quite good in itself actually.) 

I think that many residents in Rayleigh, Hawkwell, Hullbridge, Rochford and Stambridge were hoping that the Conservative Party nationally would be the “white knight” which would promise to save their green belt if only they returned a Conservative Government.  May be…. may be not…. do read on.

Whilst the Conservative Party Green Paper, will undoubtedly encourage many residents to hope that this will be outcome for their cherished area the policy actually has the clear objective of increasing the delivery of housing and other development.

There are financial incentives for Councils and this was expected. Why? Read on. 

Councils will be legally enabled to revise Core Strategies but with national Conservative Policy, then in the capacity of a  “New” Government, Councils might find it difficult to deliver cuts in housing targets which have significance for delivering tax revenues to meet tough national debt repayments !!

With the promised abolition of regional housing targets while simultaneously shifting control to the local level, this is formidable challenge in terms of delivery. To avoid the electorate drawing cynical conclusions too early will be another hard trick to pull off.   

But there is a presumption that a planning application will be approved if it conforms to a new, simpler and rationalised, national planning policy framework and the development is,……….. err, sustainable.

Nothing new here. Just like PPS3 and PPS12. 

How do you actually define “sustainable”? It is very difficult because there can be no numeric criteria.  It is a judgement, currently without even a tick list of criteria which need to be met being provided by anyone.

Residents are trying to get across their judgement on this in Hawkwell West at the moment in the DWH Appeal and to the Council itself who both want housing estates of 330 or 175 dwellings respectively.  Some residents have even decided to “club together” and hire a planning expert and a barrister. To the extent that it has come to this sorry state of affairs, planning is crying out for reform.

So sustainability will be a double edged sword giving loopholes on one side or rigidity on the other depending on how Councils wish to play in a specific site situation that is not as clear cut as others. Could that mechanism give local councils a particularly wide discretion on making what decision they like ? …..err…yes, sure…. and if rules on appeals were to be curtailed then these decisions will “stick”. 

The provision of affordable housing becomes a local decision unless the applicant is a local housing trust and then approval is almost presumed. And there is a financial incentive for a Council to approve affordable housing.

The notion of developers having the legal right to almost negotiate (?) local consent with neighbours ahead of a even a planning application is novel but fraught with danger as locals could be split in personal or collective negotiations and misunderstood promises.  Under this model residents will want to make sure that they vote for a council candidate who actually, really, does live in their Ward and that they have the skills to help make this difficult scheme deliverable and justifiable to all residents. And with Parish Councils getting involved as a party to be negotiated with who is on the Parish Council suddenly becomes something that might really matter.   

The prospect of residents being able to appeal decisions is ground breaking but I cannot see that surviving the protest of developer federations.  Can you? 

If the reforms go through it will not be a day when residents can take their eye off the ball for one second !!   But with the return to localism where the Local Plan returns supreme with locally assessed housing targets, residents must make sure that their voices are heard even louder !! And a harder deal  for political party councillors to sell or justify.  Up to then it will have been too easy to blame the other party !!  

To read the whole paper go here….http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/02/~/media/Files/Green%20Papers/planning-green-paper.ashx

Hawkwell and Coombes Farm – Possible Tests of a A New Government?

January 24, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

I have had several conversations with local residents this weekend asking what they can do about the Planning Appeals in Hawkwell, Christmas Tree Farm/Thorpe Road and Coombes Farm,Rochford/Stambridge.

Public Comments close on both Appeals on Wednesday, 27 January 2010.

Both Appeals will be heard by Public Inquiry in April following which the Secretary of State makes a decision based on the Planning Inspector’s report.

You could contact Caroline Spelman, Conservative MP because she could decide the fate of Coombes Farm if the Conservatives win the election as the future Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.

It looks to me as if  Hawkwell and Coombes Farm will effectively be Test Cases for a new Government.

Could Caroline Spelman dismiss the Appeals?  Yes, but it depends if Government Guidance on Planning Policy or the regional housing quotas are going to be changed by the new Secretary of State within 16 weeks of the conclusion of the two Public Inquiries.  Coombes Farm commences on 13 April and Hawkwell on 27 April.  Both are not likely to take longer than 4 days.

With the General Election most likely to the held on 6 May, or latest 3 June, there certainly appears to be time for a new Secretary of State to make the decision but there might not be enough time to make changes. 

It is entirely possible that the “old” Secretary of State could make the decision if General Election was held on 3 June and The Planning Inspector had submitted the report very quickly !!

Hopefully Caroline Spelman will be kind enough to look at the position and let us know.  It would be helpful if people write to copy in Mark Francois MP for Hawkwell and James Duddridge MP for Coombes Farm so that they can lobby Caroline Spelman to do the best she can for us if the Conservatives win the election and she is the future Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.

It might be that there would not be enough time for the new Secretary of State to make the changes necessary changes to save the green belt at Coombes Farm and in Hawkwell which would be a dreadful shame.

What residents do deserve is a clear answer; Will she change Government Guidance on Planning Policy Yes? or No? Will there be time to dismiss these Appeals.  Yes? or No?

We can’t ask if Ms Spelman will dismiss the Appeals because she cannot pre-determine this……………..but she could indicate whether it could be possible or out of the question?   

That seems perfectly reasonable for residents to ask for before they vote in the General Election of course !! And remarkably local with a direct immediate effect on peoples lives for a change given how remote national politics can appear to be.

Interesting challenge I think.

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