Planning & Environment

I know this is quite nerdy. I hesitate to put it in print. But whilst surfing the net, I recently came across the Save Coate website which has been put together by a well organised group of objectors who are committed to the cause of ensuring that local planning policy provides for a 1 km buffer zone around Coate Water in the Swindon Borough Council area. Sadly rather than immediately diverting to eBay or YouTube I was drawn in to Save Coate…

I observed that the website includes a section on the Localism Bill; or rather that it includes the UK Government’s own guide to the Localism Bill. The website does not endorse the contents of the Bill but neither does it distance itself from any of the Bill’s various provisions.

The website also includes a suggested pro forma letter of objection to a planning application that is currently under consideration and to which the objectors are vehemently opposed. The letter focuses on a certain councillor Greenhalgh who is reported as having described the application in glowing terms – “This proposal is the best one I think that has been put forward for this general area… I think this development will protect the character of Coate Water and should prevent building between this land and Coate itself” – much to the annoyance of the objectors. Although not a member of the planning committee, objectors warn that councillor Greenhalgh will be asserting his influence on other councillors who hold such office.

In the light of their comments on councillor Greenhalgh the objectors might want to look more closely at the Localism Bill, particularly the bit on predetermination. They might even want to distance themselves from those provisions. Why? Read on.

I have previously blogged on the predetermination provisions in the Localism Bill- see our public law blog. If these particular provisions are enacted it will no longer be possible to challenge a decision of a local authority as having been made with a closed mind “just because elected members had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view he or she took, or would or might take, in relation to a matter, and the matter was relevant to the decision.”  No, I haven’t made that up – its  a direct quote from the Bill.

So, even if councillor Greenhalgh was a member of the planning committee, it would appear that if these predetermination provisions are enacted,  he would be deemed, in law at least, to have an open mind on the matter! There are no plans to introduce similar measures in Scotland which is no bad thing in my view.

I note that the Save Coate website quotes a well- known poet with Swindon connections, John Betjeman. Writing of his childhood loss of innocence, Betjeman said “The peace, before the dreadful daylight starts, of unkept promises and broken hearts”. I can only assume that for at least some of the  Save Coate objectors, Betjeman’s words are evocative of the English planning system. A bit harsh? Well maybe…

Jackie McGuire