Decisions must still be fair
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.