BBC Radio 4 this morning picked at the dilemma facing the Coalition over planning. On the one hand are those concerned, genuinely or for electoral reasons, that our environment is being serially degraded by development and that something needs to be done about this. Handing control to local folk seems like a good start, though such ideals are always corrupted by whatever strings remain attached. On the other hand are those, led by the Chancellor, who insist that economic growth has to take priority, given the Government’s choice that it will place the bankers’ interest above all else. The bankers are winning, development is proceeding, as we would have expected. The City of London has always punched far above its weight in numbers because these are folk who know other folk who matter.
A government truthfully committed to localism would have been bolder by far. It would have started by abolishing the Planning Inspectorate, the agency that costs £45 million a year to run, the agency that sends Inspectors into our communities to over-turn the decisions of locally elected councils at the behest of the development industry. A mafia with briefcases. And if local democracy isn’t allowed to keep the developers out, where do locals turn next?
Next year will see the first elections for the post of Police & Crime Commissioner, or PCC. The plan is for there to be one for each local police force outside London, making seven for Wessex. (Two will be cross-border, taking in Buckinghamshire and Cornwall respectively.) The exact demarcation of powers between the PCC and the Chief Constable has yet to become clear, as have the rights of the Home Secretary to continue to interfere in local decisions. What is clear is the potential for these elections to result in PCCs publicly committed to using whatever discretion they do have to defend their communities instead of attacking them in the name of London-imposed laws. Developers who have obtained planning permission on appeal could discover that helping them remove squatters from their sites is no longer a police priority. In fact, we might even begin to see the first fair shoots of justice poking through. It has to start somewhere.