Officers wield too much power

PUBLISHED: 10:27 05 November 2010

Letters from M Crear and P Curtis (Journal, October 28) reflect the reaction of many local residents to East Devon District Council’s approval for the Longboat “glass monstrosity”.

I agree that unelected planning officers wield too much influence. Their power has been rising for 10 years. There are more of them, with more assistants and more consultees. Officers’ opinions, based on brief visits, are given more weight than those of parish councillors with decades of local knowledge. Locally, important objections to proposals are side-lined. The officers’ reports are often so lengthy that few members of the planning committee (DMC) will read every word.

The Coalition Government intends to “create a free, fair and responsible Big Society by putting power in the hands of citizens, neighbourhoods and councils”. This declaration appears to have been translated by EDDC’s planners into “more power for us”.

On September 5, EDDC submitted its Local Development Framework (LDF) to public consultation until November 29. By then, the Commons will have debated the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, expected to include reforms to planning procedures.

EDDC decided not to wait for this Bill and launched the LDF, even though its underlying “database” had not been completed. Alterations to the “database” appeared on the website in mid-October, provoking criticisms in newspapers. An EDDC spokesman answered: “This is an ongoing process and the number of sites will change regularly as landowners alter their aspirations and our checks reveal which sites are developable and which are not technically viable.”

I find it worrying that land offered for development belatedly may be included after the public consultation is over. EDDC promises to produce more detailed local proposals for towns and villages and consult closely with parish and town councils. That is cheering – but the head of Planning has already announced that the Government’s edict to stop “garden grabbing” will not apply to East Devon; and that the 50 new houses over 20 years for each “hub settlement” (like Budleigh Salterton) is only an average across the district. I fear some housing figures may rise steeply, particularly along the coast.

Anita Jennings,

Budleigh Salterton.

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