Posted by: westlancashirerecord | September 19, 2016

Build Without Having To Ask For Planning Permission?

Back in 2013, 22nd March, I wrote about an astonishing attack on our finest agricultural land, when the then planning minister Nick Boles MP attended a meeting with some of the country’s biggest property developers hours after George Osborne’s speech. He told them he was prepared for an acrimonious battle with countryside campaigners. These developers “have paid Boles’ party £millions in donations and they came for their payback”.

The Telegraph had obtained a recording of the meeting in which Boles disclosed that he was poised to axe the planning permission requirement for many developments. He indicated that the main purpose of a £15.5 billion government package to support homebuyers was to create a building boom.

The planning minister said he “couldn’t care who owns the bloody things”. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that the “Government would offer five-year interest-free loans worth up to 20 per cent of the value of new homes costing less than £600,000. It will also offer £12 billion of guarantees covering mortgages worth more than £120 billion. The schemes are intended to help 644,000 people buy homes over the next three years”.

Within three hours of the announcement, Boles spoke at a reception with senior figures from the property industry hosted by Savills in the heart of Mayfair, central London. He spelt out to the 150-strong audience that further deregulation of the planning system would be introduced, just weeks after the controversial new system of relaxed rules is introduced. And he also said “Our simple view is that the fundamental idea of the planning system is that property owners should be able to do some things if they want to without asking anyone,” he said. “That’s what, you know, property rights mean. There are things that have impact that is substantial on the community, on neighbours, that then they need to go through a process, and what we want to do is we want to expand the number of things you can do without having to ask for planning permission”.

And so the scene was set for what was already happening in West Lancashire. The Local Plan process was a sham from day one west-lancs-plan-front-cover-image. Who can ever forget what the late and locally respected Ormskirk resident Ed Dickinson told us all, that he accused the borough council of undermining its Plan A for future development, which focused largely on Ormskirk, in favour of its Plan B, which focused largely on Burscough, by downplaying a report by one of its own advisors highlighting the benefits of locating development in Ormskirk. Ed told The Champion at the time “The people were not advised of the Scott Wilson Associates report that it considered Option A the best option for the local economy. In almost every respect, Option A would be the better choice for major development and the council’s preferred option of Burscough has proved extremely unpopular with its residents. The public should be given a further opportunity to express their views before a decision is made”.

What remains remarkable to this day is the role of Borough/County Councillor [Wally] Westley. A resident of Halsall who is therefore unable to speak at Aughton Parish Council meetings, in his guise as an Aughton Borough Councillor, Westley voted in the Borough Cabinet for the Parrs Lane Option. But in his guise as a County Councillor for Derby Division he openly supported the refusal to consult on the proposed Option A of the Local Plan. In effect Councillor Westley agreed with Councillor Forshaw that “In terms of the Preferred Options document and the consultation phase, it is feasible for it to contain three options. However, I did not recommend this course of action to Cabinet as I considered that this would make the document very complicated. It is my view that to include all three options in the document as equals, however, would simply be confusing forshaw, given that the document will contain much more than simply the strategic site issue and would overcomplicate the document”.

Was it really the case that three Options were too complicated and confusing for residents of Aughton to understand? Or was it that often repeated stench of the political fix to enable an election to be won in Derby Ward?

All of which will hopefully come back to prominence as “West Lancashire Borough Council is set to make a legal challenge against the decision by the Planning Inspector to allow developer Wainhomes to build up to 150 houses on land at Parrs Lane in Aughton.

“Last month, the Planning Inspector overturned the council’s original decision to refuse planning approval on the site which is listed in the Local Plan as being suitable for future development. The Local Plan, which was approved by the previous Conservative administration, lists a number of sites that may be used to meet the targets set by national government for house building.

“However, Labour Councillors believes that the Planning Inspector failed to take into account all of the available sites in the borough. This included one site on which building work has already begun, and two others that the Planning Inspector omitted to include.

“Councillor John Hodson, the portfolio holder for Planning, said “The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was introduced under the Conservative-led government in 2012, has seriously undermined the powers of local government to tackle planning issues, particularly in relation to house building.

“We feel it is our moral duty to defend the adopted Local Plan in order to protect the interests of residents in West Lancashire, and that of future Local Plans. Unfortunately, members of the public, particularly those in the Aughton area, have been misled by the Conservative councillors who told them that this land was ‘safeguarded’ against development.

“In actual fact, the NPPF states that local planning authorities should “identify in their plans areas of ‘safeguarded land’ between the urban area and the Green Belt, in order to meet longer-term development needs stretching well beyond the plan period.” In this context, land is safeguarded for development, not against it, which is why the developer believed they could appeal to bring their plans forward.

“Whether the Conservative councillors concerned did this deliberately or because they failed to understand the implications of the regulations is something for residents to decide. As a council, we will do everything in our power to ensure that residents’ concerns are taken into account in such matters, so that future building plans benefit all of us in West Lancashire and not just the developers.

“To help us in this, we are now working to set up a development company which will enable us to manage future house building across the borough much more effectively. Hopefully, this will also allow us to restrict the use of loopholes in the planning regulations which give developers leave to appeal against the direct wishes of residents”.

Presumably the legality of the not so sound Local Plan being challenged now is precisely as Cllr Hodson suggests, that Conservative councillors failed to understand the implications of the regulations? Or perhaps they believed what Boles stated, “…we want to expand the number of things you can do without having to ask for planning permission”?


Responses

  1. Nick Boles: nowt but a slavish yes man to Team Cameron. I remember him airily proclaiming that 1,500 square miles of English countryside would have to be built on to ‘solve’ the current housing crisis. Sad to see that Ed has passed on.

    • Yes, it was a sad loss. Ed thought positively and fairly about Ormskirk and the borough. He was a firm supporter of the West Lancashire Pensioners’ Forum, which is where I particularly remember him. Boles? His “war on the countryside” was an easy, to him, solution rather than look to build on brownfield land which needed reclamation at too much cost to his developer friends.

  2. Hi Alan, Ed was very disappointed with what went on with plan A, and with the planners who seem to run things as per their view.

    • He was, and he saw through it all. Council Planners led by a man who told us at the start of public meetings “I’m not a planner” who then led the plans to desecrate some fine agricultural land by development.


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