Here I am, posting on the blog again, bemoaning the fact that nowadays letter writing is rare and hand-written letters more so. Much easier the electronic media to share what you want others to know via e-mail, social media posts and blog posts, instant message, texting, voice messaging. Not so in the “Whitehall bubble”. When a minister or MP wants to make a point and give it the stamp of authority, the air of ‘realpolitik’, seeming sincerity and something aimed at ‘you’, they resort to writing a letter on House of Commons or departmental headed notepaper. Well, they don’t actually write it, but they do top and tail it with an indecipherable scrawl, a bit like a prescription handed to you by your GP, a palliative given to shut you up and get you out of the surgery, so they can concentrate on the next case.
Like London buses, you wait for ages, then three turn up together. First there was the press release by the three Guildford MPs that attended the meeting of Guildford Borough’s council leader with the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning, Nick Boles MP; then there was the follow-up letter from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning to the lead MP of the ‘Guildford three’; and finally, there was the ministerial statement issued by Brandon Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Anyone might think that the increasing anger of the citizenry of ‘middle England’, over the threat to large amounts of Green Belt land in and around their villages being concreted over with affordable housing, was at last grabbing the nether regions of the ruling class and giving them a nasty squeeze.
I have heard people that are better informed about the nuances of such things than I, say that progress is being made in turning the ship of state. Maybe that is so. I have read on other blogs authored by people that are better informed than I in planning matters, about how the appallingly drafted NPPF process is being used by local planning authorities to stall their applications until after the forthcoming general election in 2015. Maybe that is so too. However, the letters and official statements of ministers say nothing that will prevent the re-drawing of my village’s settlement and Green Belt boundaries given the ‘green light’ by the NPPF, say nothing about ‘insetting’ that enables an LPA to pull my village out of the Green Belt and set it up for unbridled development, say nothing about the re-classification of Green Belt land as ‘safeguarded land’ (that safeguards it for nothing but future development). Maybe I just don’t ‘get’ the nuances.
In the real world, my local planning authority is about to announce an ‘objectively assessed’ number of dwellings – that is where ‘objectively’ means the equivalent of a series of back-of-the-envelope estimates cobbled together by a cabal consisting mainly of planning consultants, house builders, land owners and estate agents, using a questionable methodology (even Whitehall thinks the ‘SHMA Practice Guidance’ document issued in 2007 should be ripped up and replaced with something more sensible) and even more questionable population forecasts from the ONS – that might result in my village being overrun by 3,000 new houses by 2031. Unfortunately, the people responsible for all this don’t care what letters have been written or statements made by ministers, official or not. The only thing that seems to cut any ice with them is a High Court or Court of Appeal judgement that interprets and/or changes the NPPF in a way that will force them to change their approach.