We need to rebuild trust in our planning laws; Worcester News

We are lucky to live in a democracy, but sometimes I wonder just how democratic our society really is. Yes, every four years or so, we can vote to throw out a government we don’t like and replace it with another we hope will do a better job. But between elections, how much of a say do people have over their lives?

There is growing distrust of all politicians. Much of that distrust is, I honestly believe, based on misunderstanding – but not all of it. There are things we need to change to rebuild trust – and one of those is planning policy. The government wields far more planning power than it should and it’s local people that lose out.

In our county we see the government trying to impose huge numbers of new houses on South Worcestershire both directly, through an unwanted “eco-town” and indirectly through its control of regional planning policy.

The Government also has the power effectively to determine more local issues, such as the large wind farm development at Lenchwick, by rigging the rules. That means local authorities have to do what government tells them – and then get blamed by local people for decisions they were, in effect, forced to take.

We also have this ludicrous situation where local councillors – people elected specifically to represent local concerns – are often barred from speaking publicly on planning issues. If they say what they think, they lose their right to sit on any committee that discusses that particular planning issue. They have to choose – speak out and lose their influence, or stay silent and infuriate local people.

Local communities should have the right to say where new buildings and developments should go - after all they know the area they live in better than anyone. They know where things are suitable, and where they are not. Don’t the people of Norton-juxta-Kempsey, Bevere and Fernhill Heath in my constituency know far more about the need for affordable homes and where around Worcester they should go than ministers in Whitehall?

When the Government imposes things on local communities it does so saying it knows best, and that any opposition is just NIMBYism. But this attitude is close to dictatorship. It is time to change the system. Government – and planning in particular, should be bottom-up, led by the people, not top-down. It’s time to make decisions local again.

If we did, people would feel powerful again – and that really matters – and politicians would have done something really useful to rebuild trust in our democracy.

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