Fears over localism

IN championing the Save Our Sussex Alliance, the West Sussex Gazette’s sister paper the County Times has already reported our initial concerns over the consequences for the environment if the Localism Bill were to become law with the new National Planning Policy Framework in place. (WSCT September 15.

Having further considered the implications, we see the proposed legislation not just as a developer’s charter, but as fundamentally undemocratic and unnecessarily harmful to the environment. In our view, it is an assault on local democracy and a threat to the very existence of small environmental organisations such as ours.

The volunteers of the Wiggonholt Association have been working for the protection of the environment for the past 15 years, Without us, there would be a large hole in the still unspoilt landscape between Pulborough and Storrington, where it was proposed to extract some 30 million tons of sand. We believe that we have had a significant influence in restraining inappropriate development over the years and that we have successfully raised awareness of wider issues affecting the local and global environment.

Because we have never been a protest group, but have always voiced our concerns using the planning system - its laws and regulations - to present informed argument, we are faced with a serious dilemma: How do we deal with planning applications recommended for approval because the development is deemed ‘sustainable’, when the definition of ‘sustainable’ is wide open to conflicting interpretation?

ow do we persuade the planning authority to insist on the development of brownfield sites before permitting the use of greenfield land, when the Bill withdraws this obligation? And how can we insist that planners take into account the value of the countryside for its own sake, when there is no such provision?

Protection of the environment – and by that we mean everything that surrounds us – invariably involves working within the planning system. It is a system that is already heavily biased in favour of the developer. A blanket presumption in favour of development, provided it is ‘sustainable’, will further erode our ability to do our work and local communities would would have no right to say “no” under the so-called Localism Bill and its National Planning Policy Framework.

We also question the effectiveness of a free-for-all planning approach in achieving economic growth. Will it help the economy to sacrifice greenfield land at the expense of more urban decay? Should we not revitalize town centres and refurbish empty, neglected accommodation? It is estimated that there are at least half a million homes lying empty in the UK. There are also one third of a million homes in the ‘land bank’ of developers!

And then, there is the all-important moral question. Should we abandon the vital balance between environmental/social needs and aspirational economic growth? What about the quality of life and the heritage we leave to future generations?

The Wiggonholt Association was awarded charitable status a few years ago because of the public benefit of its work and we would like to continue serving the public. We fully back the Save Our Sussex Alliance and our hope must be that this ill-considered draft legislation will back-fire on the Government and result in a simplified planning system that is based on true ‘localism’ and one that will provide the right balance between the need to develop and the need to conserve and enhance the environment we live in.

Peter Flatter,

Chairman, The Wiggonholt Association