Thursday, January 16, 2014
NDC vote to ask MP Nick Harvey to take letter to Westminster airing concerns over planning issues
North Devon councillors have decided that ‘enough is enough’ as local planning authorities come under increasing pressure from central government.
This week, the Gazette revealed that a coalition of local development action groups – DEFEND North Devon - had spoken to the district councils in North Devon and Torridge about organising a public debate on the current planning issues.
And at a full council meeting last night (Wednesday), councillors voted unanimously for NDC leader Brian Greenslade to send a letter to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and Planning Minister Nick Boles to show their disapproval at the current situation – made worse by new Government plans to withhold bonuses for new homes.
Following a heated but one-sided debate on the issue, Councillor Sue Croft suggested that the council take the letter to Westminster through MP Nick Harvey, saying it was ‘too important not to’. Councillors moved that the leaders of each of the groups in the council should agree on the final wording of the letter and that everyone who wanted to should sign it.
Councillor Joe Tucker sparked the discussion by submitting a notice of motion which claimed that local planning authorities were being placed in a ‘straight jacket’ by the National Planning Policy Framework.
“I have been on the planning committee for 11 years and never before have I seen so much pressure placed on members,” said Cllr Tucker on Wednesday.
“We are having guns held to our heads.
“I am sure there is pressure from up above which is putting us in a very difficult position and I think enough is enough.
“We have got to make a stand and see the leader of this council write a letter to Mr Pickles and Mr Boles saying how undemocratic it is to take away the authority of not only this council but right up and down the country council’s are under pressure.
“We all know we need housing and this council has about 2,000 planning consents in place but we cannot go on and on. I don’t want to see the countryside covered in a load of concrete.”
Council leader Brian Greenslade pinpointed the lack of a five year land supply as ‘something which needs to be sorted out’, adding that it was ‘causing problems for local democracy’.
That sentiment was echoed by Cllr Richard Edgell, who said: “it is extremely worrying that when we get our local plan in place we still won’t have a five year land supply.
“I think it’s important that we refer to the fact that it’s the five year land supply that is the problem, otherwise it is a case of make hay while the sun shines for developers.”
Cllr Faye Webber, who has been a member of the council since its inception in 1974, said: “when we were on the planning committee at the start it was all about the public and bit by bit it has all become about money and this is another nail in the coffin. This isn’t democracy.”
Cllr David Worden, a member of the planning committee, said he now felt ‘totally redundant’ and said he ‘might as well not be there’.
Chairman of the planning committee Cllr Eric Ley worried that Mr Pickles and Mr Boles ‘wouldn’t take a blind bit of notice’ to a letter, before Cllr Croft’s proposal that the letter be taken to Westminster by the MP.