Is Planning Consent Now Political?
With the passing of the National Planning Policy Framework loudly acclaimed by the Coalition Government as another of their continuing “biggest shake ups for 60 years” who is going to be the first to admit that planning consent may well already be a political rather than purely planning decision.
We know for instance that whatever the pro and cons of HS2 and all of the posturing by Conservative Members of Parliament along the route; once the decision was made to invest in it the planning decisions have also been made.
Of course there will be the pretence at public meetings and “consultation” of the Government listening but in reality if local planning committees turn it down then compulsory purchase powers will be invoked and any challenge or opposition once it lands on the desk of the Secretary of State will be in found in favour of it going ahead.
Northampton and especially the Town Centre are desperate for regeneration and it is a position that everyone agrees with.
The major concerns when I talk to people are the scale and type of regeneration and development.
This is not NIMBYism but a real concern that the impact of developments and regeneration on residents has not really been taken into account.
On Saturday I was given real examples of concerns when talking to residents who live in the area around the St Johns surface car park where there is the proposal to develop accommodation, in effect a small housing estate for over 450 students.
There were accusations on the doorstep that some members of the Northampton Borough Council Planning Committee have been instructed that they have to vote for it at tonight’s Planning Committee come hell or high water.
No amount of explanation that the planning committee are not allowed to be “whipped” into how they should vote could convince people that the decision is not rigged in favour of the political wants of the Council administration.
The problem going forward is that if the public believe that they are being ignored and that all planning decisions are going to be decided not by the planning committee but by the political leaders we will see an increase in decisions being challenged.
What gives me the greatest concern is that the public and people of Northampton will start to question the fairness especially if for example a large development is granted in an area where the political party in power don’t usually do well but is turned down in areas where they have greater electoral support.
What would you think?
The one saving grace is that if a planning decision is overturned and there is evidence that committee members are following political instructions and not making decisions based purely on the evidence they could be in serious trouble.
It will be an argument that those who challenge and seek to overturn decisions will undoubtedly use and no doubt the way committees vote from now on will be under very close scrutiny.