Thursday, 1 September 2011

Dale Farm - this is about planning not human rights or equalities. Just planning....

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Let’s assume, just for a minute that I own a large field on the edge of Cullingworth. And let’s assume that I wake up one morning a decide to put fifty or so mobile homes on that field so as to rent them as holiday lets or cheap short-term accommodation.


I am sure that, shortly after the arrival of the first mobile home, I would receive a visit from a planning enforcement officer telling me that I don’t have permission to put those mobile homes on that field. And in the friendly conversation with that planning enforcement officer, he or she will tell me that I am very unlikely to get permission as the site is in the ‘green belt’.

Now, dear reader, catch the bus and travel a couple of hundred miles south to a similar location – a field in the ‘green belt’ outside an ordinary Essex village. And ask yourself this question – what exactly are the “very special circumstances” (PPS2 3.1) that should permit the placing of a large number of mobile homes on this particular field. Forget about the Human Rights Act, set aside all the special pleading on behalf of minorities and just consider the base facts.

It would be wrong to grant permission unless there are those ‘very special circumstances’ – Basildon Council did not find those circumstances and refused permission and subsequently (and rightly) enforced its decision – a decision supported by the then secretary of state

It was noted that in the decision notice discussing appeals in relation to sites at Dale Farm issued on 22 February 2007, the Secretary of State had concluded that there was significant harm to the Green Belt and also harm to highway safety because of the limitations of the highway network in the locality. This harm was considered to be unacceptable, even on a temporary basis, and could not be adequately mitigated by conditions. The Secretary of State considered that the issue of need and the personal circumstances of the occupiers did not outweigh the identified harm.

There has been a series of court actions that, in the end, upheld the original Council decision that this represented a development that harmed the ‘green belt’ and that there were no very special circumstances that outweighed this harm.

In the end this is a planning matter rather than anything else. I will acknowledge that we perhaps need to make more provision for travellers by way of sites but under our current planning regime this provision is a matter that should be considered in the strategic planning process (currently the ‘local development framework’ system although this will change under the Localism and Decentralisation Bill currently before parliament).

The purpose of development control is to implement the council’s planning policies in the context of national guidance and the specifics of each application. Had Basildon’s planners made any other decision it would have represented a very significant change to the treatment of ‘green belt’ in respect of caravans, mobile homes and temporary accommodation. This does not just relate to how we treat “travellers” but to a variety of other potential developments from holiday lets to retirement parks.

The reason this decision is right must be clear – whatever we may think of planning regulations, they need to be implemented consistently. If it is not permitted development for me to build one small bungalow in the ‘green belt’ – and (all other things being equal) it isn’t – it cannot be permissible for anyone to develop 51 caravan pitches with hard-standing and permanent facilities.

Travellers do not have any special privileges in respect of planning regulations other than those contained within ODPM Circular 01/2006 which states:

There is a general presumption against inappropriate development within Green Belts.

New gypsy and traveller sites in the Green Belt are normally inappropriate development, as defined in Planning Policy Guidance 2: ‘Green Belts’ (PPG2). National planning policy on Green Belts applies equally to applications for planning permission from gypsies and travellers, and the settled population. Alternatives should be explored before Green Belt locations are considered.
So why have so many people arrived to “support” the resident on this site – ageing actresses, so-called anarchists and even antediluvian Liberal Peers:

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury has criticised the decision to evict dozens of families living illegally at the Dale Farm site in Essex.

His remarks (which he’d never have made when he was MP for Orpington I bet) come on the day that the travellers facing eviction from the site took their fight to Downing Street where they handed in a 1,000-signature petition.

I can respect those who reject the premise of planning control – although I am equivocal as to whether they are right:

As Dale Farm residents have discovered to their cost, to accept that a self-styled bunch of planning experts has the right to tell you whether or not you can build a home on land you own is a cruel restriction on people’s freedom and liberty.

But the argument that there is anything in all this about “human rights” or “equalities” is to misrepresent the entire debate. It maybe that the law is an ass but, right now, it’s the law.

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3 comments:

Henry Crun said...

These people living at Dale Farm claim to be travellers. So how come they are so reluctant to move?

Anonymous said...

http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=51.595138,0.474123&spn=0.3,0.3&t=h&q=51.595138,0.474123

Only the left half of that rectangle is at issue, the rest are regular buildings.

Sorry, I fail to see any harm to the green belt. Instead I quite see the benefit to reactionary and cynical politicians on the next elections.

Simon Cooke said...

Maybe oh anonymous one but the council, the planning inspector, the secretary of state and the court of appeal all agreed there was harm to the green belt.

And remember that ANY development (other than permitted uses) in the green belt harms the green belt - the issue isn't merely harm but the need to demonstrate 'very special need'. And all those bodies - most of which aren't up for election next year - agreed.

We may disagree but that doesn't change the decision or make it worthless.