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31/07/2015

A local right of veto?

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Large scale housing development - particularly on greenbelt - provokes heated debate about local planning and the impact of development on communities. Susan Parker, chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group and a newly elected borough councillor, argues that communities should be able to veto developments they don't want

Susan Parker‘Localism’ in the context of planning is a fig leaf. National politicians blame local politicians when unpopular decisions are taken; but local politicians blame national politicians for national policy and its implementation. Local people are unable to influence the process as both tiers of government decline to accept responsibility.

It is hard for any community to argue that an area does not need or want ‘growth’, especially when councils seek to impose this. Their incentive for doing so is in part economic – higher council taxes, CIL and the New Homes Bonus all contribute to a serious economic incentive for councils making planning decisions that have nothing to do with actual need.

In the Guildford area there is bad congestion and almost full employment. Despite this, the local council has determined that “Guildford is one of the crucial regional growth hubs in the South-East”.

"Roads that run through Guildford are gridlocked daily, and our infrastructure is creaking"

But the roads that run through Guildford are gridlocked daily, and our infrastructure is creaking. Residents recognise that increased stimulus in relation to economic development here is likely to lead to poorer economic performance and a poorer quality of life.

So we have a conundrum. Developers want to build here. Our council supports development. Local people don’t want much more building. The consultation process has resulted in overwhelming objection to development (22,000 responses), but this concern is likely to be disregarded.

Send greenbelt protestDevelopers can submit repeated planning applications for the same site, but the right of appeal for the public is non-existent. Local people are stakeholders in relation to any area, and developers only have a transient interest – but that interest is given overwhelming weight.

It would be fairer if there were a process to determine a local veto of major developments. This would mean that when local government is implementing decisions the community regards as flawed the decisions could be rejected.

This would need to be subject to checks, but this could be achieved, say by defining major developments as those involving a certain number of homes or more than a certain acreage. If most local people (within a radius of the development or in the district) were in favour, then it would be approved, but if a majority were to veto a development it would not be. Any such decision should not be subject to renewed application and should be a final determination, at least for a period of years.

Susan Parker is chair of Guildford Greenbelt Group and a councillor for Guildford Borough Council

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