LETTER: Developers have been empowered

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In your succinct analysis of ‘How modern democracy works’, with reference to the planning system and the present Government, you state ‘All politicians promise to return power to the grass roots and enable the people and communities. And politicians voice those pledges most loudly when they are in opposition, and when elections are approaching. Once in power, though, they relentlessly work to bring more powers back under central control’ (WSCT 22Jan15); to which I would add – ‘whilst pretending to do the opposite on planning matters’.

Since the 2010 election there has been a substantial mismatch between fine sounding but factually incorrect and misleading statements by Ministers with responsibility for planning and the very different reality experienced in Horsham District; for example:

a. The Government is ‘not going to impose top down targets... let local people decide where these houses are built’ (Prime Minster David Cameron Oct 12)

b. Revocation of the South East Plan will ‘enable councils to make development choices that work for them. Choices that are right for their communities and respond to the needs of the local area rather than arbitrary top-down targets. This presents a far better deal for local people’ (Secretary of State for Councils and Local Government Eric Pickles MP, Feb 13)

c. ‘We have... abolished top-down regional strategies, protecting the countryside and empowering local communities’ (Nick Boles MP, when Minister for Planning’, May 14)

In reality and contrary to ministerial pronouncements, developers, not communities, have been empowered – and enabled by the Government through its NPPF to determine what and where they wish to build in expectation that any refusal by the council would be overturned by the Planning Inspectorate at appeal. And the Planning Inspectorate is controlled by central Government.

As for the Horsham District local plan, an excessive and seemingly arbitrary housing target, considerably in excess of the number considered to be sustainable by the council, has been imposed by a Planning Inspector – an unelected official who cannot be held to account by the council and the district’s communities should his decisions prove to be flawed.

Moreover, even though the target imposed by the Inspector is dependent on untested and questionable presumptions and assumptions and makes no allowance for economic and market uncertainty, it will be the council, not developers, who will be held accountable by central Government through the Planning Inspectorate should developers not achieve the Inspector’s imposed and arbitrary target. And communities will be vulnerable to developer-imposed development at appeal, as they are now.

Dr R.F. SMITH

For the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) Sussex Countryside Trust (Horsham District), Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield