During his pre-election party conference David Cameron said: “When you look at almost any one of our policies, they are all about giving people more power and control over their lives. Look at our housing policy, it’s about scrapping the housing targets, and allowing local areas to decide.”
Eric Pickles said at a NALC conference “We’ve put local people at the heart of the system. So they get to decide where new homes … should go.”
But more recently Mr Cameron wrote: “A familiar cry goes up – yes we want more housing, but no to every development – and not in my backyard.” In November housing minister Nick Boles even labelled the people that dared to object as ‘selfish.’
The NIMBY accusation does not stand up to logical scrutiny. Of course it will be local people, those who will be affected, who complain about an unwanted development. Why would anyone else do so?
The Prime Minister’s desire to give people a voice in planning, a sense of democratic engagement through ‘localism’ or ‘the big society’ is just empty words. If we do speak up, we are labelled and vilified as NIMBYs and selfish.
The proposal to build 700 houses at Ridgeway Farm was unanimously rejected by both Swindon and Wiltshire councils. All relevant elected representatives from both councils publicly stated their opposition. Over 1,000 people wrote an objection to the planning application and over 1,300 wrote to Shaw Residents’ Association stating opposition. This number represented a higher turnout of local people than was seen during elections.
Yet at appeal, using the draft Reginal Spatial Strategy for Wiltshire, which the government derided in opposition and promised to replace, the inspector found in favour of the developers. Mr Pickles stated in his covering letter that he ‘afforded limited weight’ to the new Swindon and Wiltshire Core Strategies.
Given that the core strategies have been approved by democratically elected councils, it is clear that neither democracy or local opinion played any role in the Ridgeway Farm decision.
Mr Cameron now says he is ‘more determined than ever to cut through the dither.’ This appears to be in reference to the complexity of the appeal process designed to examine all the evidence and protect communities. The SRA can only conclude from this and the Ridgeway Farm experience that the time, effort and money invested in developing local plans as required by the Localism Act is of limited value.
If a developer wants to build outside of the plan, he will simply take his request to a simplified appeal, local activists will be named and shamed as selfish NIMBYs and the appeal will find in favour of the developer.
The Ridgeway Farm decision is a throwback to the last government. At least they were open and honest by setting centralised, un-democratic house building targets.
What has really changed? Nothing of course, localism is stillborn, long live lobbying.
• See more at: www.shawresidents.org.uk