Today the House of Commons which theoretically gives us the chance to get involved in decisions that affect our daily lives is considering cutting local people out of planning decisions.
At root the Planning Bill is an attempt to speed up major infrastructure by cutting out the type of objections that can be raised at public inquiries. If the reforms go through we could end up with an unelected, unaccountable body taking decisions on anything from major power stations, airports and trunk roads to reservoirs and incinerators.
The feeling from the Government is that local people opposing a plan for major infrastructure by challenging national policy is a problem. They believe local involvement in planning should be tightened up to the extent that people shouldn’t be able to challenge national policy at every stage of an application.
The changes could lead to a situation where you as a member of your local community, concerned about the plans to build an airport near your home would have the ability to complain about the colour of terminal but would have no say over where it goes. Because new “National Policy Statements” will already have been consulted on, the Government suggests that should mean that large scale developments will go ahead regardless of local opposition.
Cutting local people out of decision making is clearly anti-democratic, but it also threatens the environment including irreplaceable ancient woodland. Local people act as the eyes and ears of organisations like the Woodland Trust and they are often more effective in saving a cherished wood or green space. This move towards centralised planning means that the environment will almost inevitably lose out.
The threat of a revolt by Labour backbenchers has put the Government on the back foot and they have granted some concessions in the hope of being able to push the Planning Bill through. This evening we will have to wait and see if our representatives undermine our chances of creating sustainable places for people to live, or whether they recognise that we can not continue to dis-empower local people from issues affecting their community and environment.