Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Monday 6th November 2017

FEW issues appear to exercise the minds of the residents of this district or take up more print in the letters pages of this publication than building developments and planning issues, and it is not difficult to see why that is.

Local government planning regulations, practices and administration are meant to make the whole process fair and equal and produce decisions which are supposed to be for the greater good of the greater number, so why is the whole system so adversarial?

Planning is not merely an administrative process, because the moment an individual feels that someone else’s plans will impinge on their property or upon their life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness, the system becomes a contest, a battlefield upon which there must, inevitably, be casualties.

The problem with this system is that every decision which is made following an objection to a planning application inevitably produces a winner and a loser or, in the case of so many modern developer-led applications, a winner and multiple losers.

Well, c’est la vie we may say, that’s life and in life there have to be winners and losers, so what’s the problem? The problem is, and this is why the letters pages get so hot and angry on this subject, this is England and the English (British) don’t mind losing if the contest is fair and the playing field level, but in the planning system it is neither.

The system, as this column has argued in the past, is loaded against objectors to planning applications, particularly those by large developers. It is quite simple. Applicants are assisted by the planning process while objectors have to try to manoeuvre their way through the maze of information about what they actually can and cannot object to, and in doing so they quickly find that the “can’t” list easily exceeds the “can” list.

Having found what they believe to be valid planning issues or anomalies on which to base their opposition, the objectors are required to reveal their objections in full in writing to the planning officer dealing with the case.

Bear in mind that this is the person who has almost certainly met and spoken to the applicant or those they employ as planning consultants about the validity of their plans and advised them if they need to consider changes to meet planning or local requirements. This is also the planning officer who, should they be recommending acceptance of the application, will now write a report for the planning committee recommending and commending the plan and in which they are able to, and usually do, negate and discount each objection in detail. All very fair.

Planning committees can and do reject planning officers’ recommendations but the far more usual outcome is that the planning officer kills off most of the objections and the elected members of the planning committee just come down from the hills to bayonet the rest.

To add insult to an already biased system, if the planning committee refuses an application the applicant can appeal against that decision or just reapply again and again. No such avenue is open to objectors. If they lose they have lost for all time without right of appeal.

It is a bad system to start with but government policies (started by the coalition) on new homes make it 10 times worse by offering financial incentives for councils to grant planning permisssions to build new houses whether they are needed or not, and that is not merely this individual’s biased opinion.

The House of Commons library on the New Homes Bonus (NHB) scheme records that, according to the Public Accounts Committee: “The Department has yet to demonstrate that the new homes it is funding through this scheme (NHB) are in areas of housing need …” In other words, the building of many new housing developments has very little to do with actual housing need.

Further research shows that houses are being built not because of identified need but on the grounds that councils make money out of granting planning consents.

According to government figures, it appears that Eden Council could make almost a million pounds, somewhere around £950,000, from this scheme in 2017-18.

According to the Department for Local Government and Communities’ figures, Eden grants more new housing planning consents in proportion to its population than many urban locations, including some inner London boroughs.

There may be no correlation between these things but those who have unsuccessfully opposed hundreds of unnecessary and unwanted housing developments around the country may have some justification in believing there is.

WHY do we wear poppies at this time of the year? There are a number of reasons, but they are all tightly interwoven.

The poppy is the symbol of remembrance of the sacrifice of our servicemen and women and it is also the outward sign that we support them and the Royal British Legion by our donations in the work it does for service personnel and their families and descendants in a hundred different ways.

Poppies make us proud, sad, reflective and mindful of what our responsibilities are to those who have served, died and been injured for us and, hopefully, very grateful and generous — all embodied in one red and black (with a green leaf these days) symbol.

However, what if one or more of those elements is missing and we wear a poppy not for what it says to us but for the good impression we hope it makes on others? Does that make the poppy the symbol it is supposed to be?

This is just a question, for I would hate to impugn the reputations of anyone on just an impression, but at the weekend (somewhere around 29th or 30th October) everyone who appears on the BBC, whether they be presenter or guest, had what appears to be a standard issue poppy (ITV is doing it this year, too). It was most noticeable on Match of the Day when all three chaps had one pinned to their shirts in exactly the same position.

Does the BBC buy in bulk with our licence fee money (I feel another freedom of information request being turned down) and, if so, does it take them back from guests at the end of every program or do their guests pop a quid in the tin? I hope so.

If these are just standard issue for the purpose of making the BBC or their presenters or guests look caring and mindful, etc, then that is wrong and cynical and is little better than finding a poppy in the street and wearing it as if you had made a donation.

I am sure all the people who appear on the BBC “buy” their own poppies anyway, but then they should wear their poppy when they want and where they want instead of the TV poppies looking like a uniform which just looks false and defeats the whole object. Some celebs being interviewed on Tuesday had actually had standard issue poppies pinned to their witches’ costumes, for goodness sake.

TALKING of Hallowe’en, can we have our snatch apple night back? For younger readers that was the name we gave to the last night of October now known as Hallowe’en, which is actually a contraction of the correct name, which is All Hallows Eve.

All Hallows Eve is followed on 1st November by All Saints Day. That was the day when we always sang “For all the saints who from their labours rest, He who by faith before the world confessed” every year in school assembly. Even fewer people will remember assemblies, which was how every school day started in the days when it was OK to be English and have a collective act of worship without fear of upsetting those who these days spend their lives being offended by everything.

These professional offence-takers don’t seem bothered about the pagan nature of Hallowe’en but would be offended if Christians spoke up against it.

Hallowe’en is an American “tradition” which in common with most American traditions was invented by Waldo F. Plonkbottom the Third in 1959 in order to boost the sale of pumpkins on his family farm in Calfskitter, Iowa.

Hallowe’en, as it now manifests itself, is, of course, simply yet another old festival like Christmas, Easter and World Cups hijacked by supermarket chains in order to get lame brains to spend lots of money on throwaway items they don’t need, can’t afford and, it has to be said, don’t understand,

Like so many American spending traps (Black Friday is next) which we are so eager to adopt and copy, Hallowe’en has three things wrong with it — it is over-hyped, over-commercialised and over here.