De­ci­sions must still be fair

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - OPINION - by Damian Green

It some­times seems from my post­bag that ev­ery­one in Ash­ford is an ex­pert on the plan­ning laws. Those who are not wor­ried about the gen­eral ex­pan­sion of Ash­ford are con­cerned about the threat to rural shops from the growth of su­per­mar­kets, and ev­ery­one else has a view on their neigh­bour’s ex­ten­sion. I sus­pect, there­fore, that the West­min­ster an­nounce­ment this week that will cause the most long-term ef­fect will be the White Pa­per on plan­ning pro­duced by Ruth Kelly. She pro­poses a na­tional In­de­pen­dent Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, in an at­tempt to speed up de­ci­sions on big de­vel­op­ments such as air­ports and power sta­tions. The ob­vi­ous ques­tion to ask, given our ex­pe­ri­ences here in Ash­ford, is what level of lo­cal con­trol and in­flu­ence will re­main? Ash­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil, for ex­am­ple, has de­cided that the growth of the town should take up as lit­tle green land as pos­si­ble. A na­tional body might have taken a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion, and we would have had no op­por­tu­nity to dis­pute it. On the is­sue of speedy de­ci­sions, it is hard to dis­pute that tak­ing a decade or more on ev­ery big plan­ning is­sue is non­sense. But if de­ci­sions are to be made faster, then it is more im­por­tant than ever that they are seen to be fair. As an ex­am­ple, Lydd Air­port’s pro­posed ex­pan­sion ex­cites pas­sions on both sides. When a de­ci­sion is made, it is im­por­tant that lo­cal res­i­dents know they have been given a fair hear­ing by an im­par­tial body. In the end it is bet­ter to have de­ci­sions taken at a lo­cal level, by peo­ple who will know the sen­si­tiv­i­ties, and will have to live with the ef­fects of the de­ci­sions. This will not mean an ab­sence of de­vel­op­ment, since most peo­ple are re­al­is­tic about the need for new hous­ing, and even power sta­tions. But it might mean bet­ter de­ci­sions about how and where that de­vel­op­ment hap­pens.

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