?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Making the gods laugh - News from Nowhere [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
shewhomust

[ website | The Shadow Gallery ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Making the gods laugh [Feb. 28th, 2015|08:59 pm]
shewhomust
[Tags|, , ]

For the last several years, the County Durham Plan has been a large part of our lives; and when I say 'our' I'm talking about durham_rambler and myself, but also about various residents' groups and civic societies. Our friends and neighbours are either as deeply involved as we are, or have heard us talk about it so much for so long that they probably feel as if they are. We have attended County Council consultation sessions, we have made comments, we have submitted critiques, we have studied the Plan in detail and at length. durham_rambler has collated population projections and mashed up maps, and he worked more or less full-time last summer to co-ordinate and complete the evidence of the City of Durham Trust: our holiday had to be squeezed in between the closing date for the submission of evidence and the opening of the Examination in Public, at which a Planning Inspector considers the Plan and decides whether it is sound (this is why we were in New England too early for the Fall foliage) - and on our return there was a month and a bit when he was spending several days a week at the Examination in Public.

So yes, the process has eaten our time and out lives, and it hasn't done our business any good either. But we considered it worthwhile, because this is important: the Plan is the structural plan which determines how the County is managed for the next ten or twenty years. A good Plan helps make County Durham a better place to live, but this - this was not a good plan. As I understand it, the Council's strategy is to use the City to attract businesses, and therefore jobs, to the County, by building lots of houses in the Green Belt. Not that I do understand it - or rather, I don't understand why the availability of housing for existing staff should tempt a business to move to Durham and take on people who already live here; nor do I see any good reason why that housing (supposing it to be needed) has to be in, rather than outside, Durham's very narrow Green Belt; and surely no-one now believes that you can reduce traffic congestion by building more roads, and...

Enough. You get the picture.

Ten days ago the Inspector issued his interim report. This found against the Council on a number of aspects of the Plan: it rejected the planned relief roads, the removal of land from Green Belt and the half-hearted policy on controlling studentification in the City. This is good news for us. But how is the Council to make a strategic policy for the future? The Inspector offers them three options: they can continue the process with the existing Plan (in which case he is likely to find the Plan unsound); they can suspend the Examination process and see what they can rescue from the Plan (though suspension would normally be for a maximum of six months, and they'd have their work cut out to get the work done in time); or they can withdraw the Plan (which leaves Durham with no strategic policy).

So what does the Council do? Does it sit down to examine the Plan in the light of the interim report, to see what it has left, and what it can patch up? You think?

First, it sets up a meeting of business men (and a woman) to act as cheerleaders. These - unlike us - are the people whose opinion matters.

At the next Council meeting, it complains that the Examination in Public process is unfair, and that the Inspector is "Bristol-based" (Bristol being where the Planning Inspectorate, a Government Department, has it offices; you might equally complain of the Durham-based passport office...).

Unofficially, you can see the level of debate in this Twitter exchange between a County Councillor (and member of the Planning Committee) and some Durham City residents.

I am beyond angry.

There's a rather more entertaining tirade about planning in The Guardian, where Ian Martin lets rip about London - The city that privatised itself to death: "The utter capitulation of London’s planning system in the face of serious money is detectable right there in that infantile, random collection of improbable sex toys poking gormlessly into the privatised air. Public access? Yeah, we’ll definitely put a public park at the top (by appointment only). Oh, absolutely, we are ALL about community engagement: members of the public are welcome to visit our viewing gallery in the sky, that’ll be 30 quid, madam."
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2015-02-28 09:10 pm (UTC)
The plan asks for 600 new homes in Barnard Castle, apparently. Nobody understands who might want them. in a little country town with 7000 residents that could be a serious increase in numbers.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-03-01 10:16 am (UTC)
Well, the public rationale is that if you build houses, the jobs will follow them. I might think personally that development is an end in itself...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2015-03-01 08:19 pm (UTC)
Heaven knows this part of Durham has plenty of cheap housing that nobody wants.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2015-03-01 04:32 am (UTC)
ARGH!!!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-03-01 10:16 am (UTC)
I couldn't have put it better myself!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: anef
2015-03-01 06:58 am (UTC)
You've chosen to take the time to understand and campaign on this, but you're clearly exceptional. The whole system is set up to push through planning decisions like the one that gave us this (our local eyesore) http://www.bdonline.co.uk/carbuncle-cup-the-marque-cambridge-by-cambridge-university-department-of-architecture/5070039.article

Despite years of protests by residents who had looked at the plans the council admitted that actually there was very little they could have done to stop this.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-03-01 10:14 am (UTC)
That is very hideous (though it was hard work registering to look at the link). But why do the Council say they couldn't have stopped it?

And at least you have a City Council: we are a unitary authority, so planning is in the hands of the County Council.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-03-01 10:20 am (UTC)
Actually, I should add that we are not so exceptional, and that when our MP holds a public meeting on planning issues, it's always standing room only!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2015-03-06 02:53 am (UTC)
Local politics are, in this respect, even worse than national politics: they're every bit as devious and unpleasant, but the consequences are things you directly feel :(

Why in the world did the Inspector so hamstring the pursuit of a workable plan?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-03-06 09:20 am (UTC)
Why in the world did the Inspector so hamstring the pursuit of a workable plan?

Interesting, that this is what you've taken away from this story, when I thought I was saying that the Plan was deeply flawed.

The Inspector is doing his job: he isn't allowed to tell the Council what to do, so he can't put positive suggestions, but his task is to say whether the Plan as proposed is acceptable. He agreed with a number of objectors that it isn't, and I pointed to three major failings:
  • the Council wants to allow building in the 'green belt' (land designated as not for building, to keep towns and cities from spreading into each other) but hasn't demonstrated that there is no alternative to this

  • the Council wants to build two new roads but has not proved that they are necessary

  • the Plan does nothing to maintain a balance of permanent residents and students within the City of Durham

Objectors have offered to work with the Council to produce a plan which drops some of the worst bits and produces evidence for what remains - and this may happen, though the Council is currently taking legal advice (ie trying to challenge the planning process).

You're right about local politics being completely toxic, though!
  • (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
    [User Picture]From: asakiyume
    2015-03-06 11:41 am (UTC)
    I think it's because I'm not caught up on the whole situation in its entirety, maybe, that I took the wrong message from the entry. I certainly got that the Plan as currently constituted was no good (I definitely think the building-in-the-green-belt part is breathtakingly wrongheaded, and I absolutely agree with you that building roads doesn't reduce traffic congestion). I hadn't realized that the Council was being so deliberately obstructionist, and I hadn't realized that the Inspector was acting as an ally to you guys (the objectors). Some throwing up of obstacles can be a good thing! But some can make stuff worse.

    So it's a good thing, then, that the Inspector did what he did, because he's preventing the Council from instituting ill-conceived development, yes?
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
    [User Picture]From: shewhomust
    2015-03-06 02:57 pm (UTC)
    Fair enough: and I'm probably too deep into it to be as clear as I'd like!

    The best option would have been for the Council to listen to the objectors and change the plan before it went to the Inspector.

    But failing that, yes, it's a relief that the Inspector has said no to the Plan as is.

    Now ideally the Council would be meeting objectors and trying to put togethyer something workable. It looks as if their first reaction is to try to bluster through, but here's hoping...
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
    [User Picture]From: asakiyume
    2015-03-06 03:02 pm (UTC)
    When do you get to vote for new council members? (Or do you?) It would be great to have people in there who were less high handed.
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
    [User Picture]From: shewhomust
    2015-03-06 04:16 pm (UTC)
    Unfortunately, this is one of the particularly toxic aspects of the local set-up.

    We are dealing with a unitary authority, the County Council, on which the Labour Party has a solid majority, and has had for a long time. Most of the councillors representing the City of Durham, including my own representatives, are Liberal. Their views tend to be dismissed, not just when actual party policies are concerned, but when representing constituents.

    - and I've just deleted a couple of sentences about frictions between City and County, because there's enough material there for a long and bad-tempered post. So I'll stop there.
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)