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