Letter - Planners must remember their responsibilities

I write in furtherance of my recent letter (May 3), and the response from Ian Thomson, in the hope of clarifying some inherent contradictions as to the use and purpose of Development and Neighbourhood Plans.

On the one hand, Mr Thomson defends the consultation process in regard to the WMDC Development Plan seemingly in the belief that it is right for planners and district councillors who represent the community as a whole to have the final say over specific proposals affecting individual parishes or neighbourhoods. On the other hand he stresses the importance of the Neighbourhood Plans which were introduced in the Localism Act more than a year ago.

Neighbourhood plans should ideally provide an opportunity for local residents to express and formalise their opinions in regard to potential development in their own neighbourhoods; and should ideally provide an opportunity to address such issues as the economic and social growth as well the environmental protection of a locality. All such opportunities are of course welcome.

The problem is that the WMDC has apparently already ‘fixed’ the nature, type and location of larger scale permitted housing schemes in and through its Development Plan, and for periods of seven and ten years or more. It is difficult therefore to see how in practice neighbourhood planning might work, or even how it relates to current planning procedures (as set out in the Statement of Community Involvement).

Although the relevant Government Ministers have advised that, under the NPPF, the opinions of local neighbourhood groups are already a significant ‘material consideration’ when planning applications are decided, the WMDC Planning Committee are still giving them little weight.

The comments from district councillors at hearings show that some of them lack insight into the issues involved and seem only too ready and willing to impose their own misguided and short sighted views. Furthermore, the case officers and their line mangers often demonstrate a remarkable lack of interest in the technical details of new projects - relying instead on applications submitted by developers without attempting any critical evaluation of the contents.

It is hardly surprising that disaffected residents should take matters into their own hands through judicial reviews. Many Durkar residents now regret they too did not take legal action over the recent housing scheme imposed upon them.

One example of the lack of critical evaluation of data concerns the increased air pollution around the school at Durkar – dismissed by planners and developers alike as ‘insignificant’. No proof was ever given for this conclusion, with which the local neighbourhood groups totally disagree.

The case officer’s report didn’t even take into account the Air Quality assessment carried out by WMDC Environmental Health Service (EVH) section, who advised “the development would add and impact on already unacceptable levels of air pollution”. Instead the non expert view of the developer, who deemed impact would be imperceptible (very slight), was allowed to stand. Recently the WMDC (EVH) published their draft Air Quality Progress Report for 2013 (AirWake). According to this report the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels monitored in the District do not meet the required EU standards.

The report summary says: “Significant redevelopment projects within the district will have an impact on the traffic structure and consequently the local air quality”. It mentions also that “little progress has been made in identifying effective Action Plan measures”. This is not good for children attending Durkar primary school – or any other school for that matter. Planners need to take note rather press on with their development plans regardless.

Non-pollution is a human right. It has been revealed that about 29,000 early deaths each year in the UK are blamed on air pollution - more than obesity and alcohol combined. Every effort needs to be made to comply with EU regulations on Air Quality. By not doing so, apart from the health aspect, there is a financial implication.

There is the potential for the UK government to be fined by the EU if limit values are exceeded; and the fines could be considerable. I understand that, under the Localism Act, any fines imposed will be passed on to local authorities.

Planners remember the responsibility you bear on your shoulders. Quote -“we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.

JM Donlon

Durkar Low Lane