‘Localism is nothing but words’ is a phrase that many people living in Pamington will no doubt be using for a considerable time to come after Tewkesbury Borough’s Planning Committee voted by a narrow margin earlier today to permit the construction of a Chicken ‘Farm’ at Starveall.
After a lengthy debate in which nearly all Members of the Planning Committee asked questions, commented or debated the Plan, it was clear that the decision would be close.
Pamington Residents who attended and commented to me afterwards had not expected to hear 2 different Members tell the Committee that there was in effect no point in objecting because the Plan would go through on Appeal anyway. They had certainly not expected to see some Members of the Committee choosing not to vote and I can certainly understand why they were frustrated and felt completely let down when the Decision was then made on a majority of 9 votes to 8.
I have made little secret of my concerns about the arbitrary nature of the Planning System and the way that a centrally derived policy of deferral, qualification or elimination can effectively dismiss the decisions of Local Planning Committees themselves.
But irrespective of what different Government Agencies, Authorities or NGO’s have to say regarding their very subjective views concerning the relationship of proposals with their own Policies, the reality is that no voter or member of public – who doesn’t have knowledge of the System – is expecting any decision but that of the people they Elected to represent them, to carry the overwhelming weight in a Planning Decision. Circumstances that would actually reflect localism in their literal sense if not its truest form when borne out.
Having followed the Plans for this Site since I first received documents outlining the proposal from the Applicant’s Agent in 2012, through Parish Council and Public Meetings, right up until I attended the Site Inspection Panel Meeting on the 23rd of January, I had no doubt that I would speak when the time for a Decision came, and this is what I said to the Planning Committee this morning:
“It would to my knowledge be quite correct to state that other than the Applicant himself, Residents and Businesses from the area are universally against this application and what it represents in terms of the blight on the landscape, the environmental considerations, the potential related impact upon flood issues in the locality and beyond, and the access issues which all accompany a sizeable commercial project which is unquestionably profit led.
Let me be clear in saying that I am not against business, commerce or any private enterprise doing the best that it can with the resources that are available to make the very best of the opportunities that are open to it. I am however against any enterprise doing so when there will be a direct and negative impact upon the quality of living for others or a potentially serious escalation in the threat of injury or harm to the public which cannot be justified for any purpose other than for a savvy business to make money and because distantly set central government legislation simply allows them to do so.
Many of us are simply struggling to understand how the junction from Pamington Lane on to the A46 by Ashchurch Camp can be considered to be safe for the access and egress of what may be some of the biggest heavy goods vehicles which are permitted on the UK’s roads without very specific exemptions. Members will have surely noted the pictures provided by residents of a vehicle of similar size and proportion pictured to these at this junction which is on a stretch of road as notorious for existing safety concerns as it is for the accompanying traffic volume issues which I understand may already be critical to the viability of several high profile sites in the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward within an implemented JCS.
Put simply, nobody who knows this site locally believes this junction is safe for this kind of commercial traffic to access Pamington even now, and that’s before absolutely anything else gets built.
The rising volumes of traffic on the A46 which will inevitably come with the developments that residents in this Ward are having to contemplate even without including the proposal here today will make serious accidents all the more likely, and that is before the introduction of what will be heavy goods vehicle manoeuvres of a seriously traffic flow-obstructing and visibility reducing nature.
Surely Members will recognise that local knowledge; what is in effect situational objectivity, and common sense must override the tick-box, distant and highly subjective approach which is arguably being employed by the Highways Agency who – let’s face it, are not best known for their touchy-feely nature or for employing any discernible level of collaboration with key stakeholders.
Take any allowance given to the emotional buy-in that will remove value from the arguments of local people and the fact still remains that neither this Junction nor Pamington Lane are suited to the proposed level of heavy goods traffic use which will come with Planning being approved and would therefore be likely to suffer a significant reduction in road safety for all users as a result.
Before I conclude, I believe that it should also be of great concern to this Committee that by granting approval to this application, I understand that Members will also grant de-facto approval for the construction of an extensive roadway to the site with no less than 5 passing places between Pamington lane and the farm, which are sufficient to accommodate vehicles of such a size.
Such permission will see the destruction of what is arguably little more than an historic green lane which has existed and given pleasure to local people for many generations. I now understand that approval will lead it to be bulldozed and gravelled over simply because it is a public right of way and because Gloucestershire Highways can authorise such a construction for its entire length and up to a width of 30 Feet at any point, should they choose to do so. What exactly is fair to everyone but the applicant about that?
Mr Chairman, I appreciate very well how the Planning system works and the interpretive nature of the Members responsibility which is all too often misinterpreted by those who innocently perceive that the buck always stops within these four walls.
However, applications such as this illustrate just how flawed a system is that has the ability to allow applications like this to gain approval just because planning is effectively based on a London-generated, one size fits all mentality.
The reality is that whilst different, to the residents of Pamington, building a chicken farm at Starvall is as real as the threat from building on floodplain to residents living in Tewkesbury Town or building on the Greenbelt to people who have homes around Churchdown. Local people are expecting local decisions to reflect this.
I ask all of you to consider what I have said closely and to reject this Application, which is not in the interests of the majority of the people who reside, work, run businesses or travel through this parish and is not in the interests of the people who already have homes and lives in this ward or in the future may do so.”
I remain firmly of the view that local issues that only affect local people should be dealt with at local level, unless there is a matter of genuine national interest which overrides them.
Sadly and most regrettably, this didn’t happen today.
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