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The government that likes to say 'Yes'


The parliamentary Communities and Local Government Committee has come out clearly against the plans made by Pickles and his ilk to tear up the Town and Country Planning Act and allow untrammelled development of the countryside. Their report into the National Planning Policy Framework lays bare its fetishisation of simplification and its attempt to prioritise the narrowly 'economic' at the expense of people and planet. As I discuss in a short paper on localism published recently by Green House, this makes a mockery of the government's espoused support for community-led decision-making.

Bizarrely, the original NPPF document relies on the Brundtland definition of sustainable development as 'Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' I am constantly mystified by the way in which people can spout this without considering at what point development would have to stop. Where between the situation we have now, with species becoming extinct but there still being enough green land to enable breathing, and the future development paradise where every scrap of field and hill is covered with concrete and tarmac, is development supposed to stop? Assuming that future generations will still need air to breathe, there must be a boundary, so how do we know that we have not already reached it? And if not, when will we know we are there?

Gamely, the CLG committee has, in its para. 67, added to this definition of sustainable development to include the concept of limits: 'Policies in plans and decisions on development should be assessed against the principles that the nation and areas within it should live within their environmental limits; should achieve a sustainable economy and should seek to ensure a strong, healthy and just society.' It also requires a locally based and democratic basis to planning: 'The achievement of sustainable development through planning should be based on the responsible use of a sound evidence base and developed through an open and democratic system.'

The presumption in favour of development has nothing to do with national well-being or sustainability: it results from the lobbying undertaken by the big construction companies who dominate Tory policy-making. Note the following quotation from the website of Curtin & Co, who are not only experts in planning but also in 'managing green issues':

‘There is no doubt that the local government and planning landscape will change considerably in the next 12 to 18 months. There are still significant holes in the proposed legislation and Curtin & Co will be monitoring the progress of the bill as well as making representations on its community engagement aspects. Curtin&Co’s founder and chief executive is the author of Managing Green Issues (Macmillan, 2001) which advocates many of the aspirations of the Localism Bill and this is embedded in our methodology.’

On this day which our ancestors celebrated as a festival of hope that life would return after the darkness and cold of the winter season we need to remember that 'there is no wealth but life' and resist the equation of development with progress while utterly rejecting the possibility of future economic growth.

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