Friday, July 23, 2010

Right to build?

Just been listening to Grant Shapps put forward his policy to allow small communities to decide on planning matters without recourse to local authorities.

Firstly, I can't let the inconsistency pass - most of the time, we hear that the Tories like local, democratically elected authority, but when it matters, we are told that the councils either don't care or aren't competent - schools are looking to opt out of local, democratically accountable control and take on direct funding from central government. Planning authorities 'don't care about developments if five houses' according to Shapps, so we'll pass that down to the local community instead. My experience is that they do care very much about small developments. Yet local authorities are apparently great at banding together to create smaller (less well-funded) regional development agencies - despite fears in the Midlands that this will lead to total domination by Birmingham. Eric Pickles scraps RDAs even as Ian Duncan Smith over at DWP announces regionalisation of employment support. You could be forgiven for confusion over Tory policy.

Rather like the proposals for free schools that make the council's job of planning educational infrastructure impossible, this threatens any concept of a local spatial strategy - backed by local democratic accountability. What it does is hand planning over to small local cliques and potentially into the control of dedicated NIMBYs or those more easily influenced by local builders. Given that Caroline Spelman won votes as a result of opposing construction work near Meriden by a group of gypsies who had bought their own land and given that the Tories up and down the land have opposed back garden developments and anything that might impinge on the sacred green belt, this seems an odd decision and one potentially fraught with unfairness and inconsistency across the country. That isn't to say I'm opposed to localised decision-making, just concerned about the pitfalls that I know lie ahead. As with much curent policy, devils lurk within the detail.

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