Exploding the local and national political box

  ‘At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it’. Paul Hawkin

  ‘Large scale problems don’t require large scale solutions, they require small scale solutions in a large scale framework’. David Fleming

  In the light of the so called housing crisis, central government has made alterations to legislation which has placed the presumption in favour of what they call sustainable development, (national planning policy) and incentivizing local councils to pass planning applications through by way of enabling them to cream off the fat of developers profits and generate increased revenue through more council tax. Local councils have not been helped however on this by the fact that central government have cut local authority budgets by 40% since 2010.

 Unsustainable development and the Local Plan

Sustainability is about the avoidance or depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. It is about how goods and resources can be used in ways that are not harmful to the environment. The United Nations definition of sustainable development is defined as the following: the meeting of needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The national planning policy framework as issued by Gregg Clark states that the presumption should be in favour of sustainable development.  What is he talking about when he speaks of this? Does it have anything to do with green issues, energy or consideration beyond short term profit? Might we suggest that the true meaning of the word sustainability has been hijacked? Does he really mean commercial viability and maintaining the status quo?

 Within the context of housing development true sustainability might take the form of landscaping the site to promote bio-diversity and encourage wildlife, wetland areas, ponds and a substantial woodland area planted to coppice for fuel. A community car share scheme integrated and designed to discourage car use and encourage walking, cycling and public transport. The placement of homes with allotment plots, edible forest gardens, hedgerows and community resources. The materials used to build the homes would be non-toxic and non-polluting ex cobb or straw bale. Fossil fuel usage would be minimized as well as concrete. Consideration would be given to ensure housing would have solar orientation and passive solar gain, compost loos and rainwater harvesting systems. A good example of truly sustainable development is Transition Homes in Totnes :

So when in your local plan you see the words like sustainability, conserving heritage assets, protecting and enhancing environmental assets, a world class environment, being used do not be deceived, this it would seem really is the emperor with no clothes on!

Do you still believe your local council and its current form of operating can provide real solutions for your community? 

For example within the context of national planning policy and the local plan your council promised –

  • Sustainable development
  • Protection of the environment and the local area
  • To stop unplanned development by appeal
  • To conserve heritage assets

 We got and continue to get –

Unsustainable development, escalating traffic, increasing environmental degradation and loss of many significant green spaces.

The following are a couple of obvious examples reflecting the vested interests of District and County council putting profit and political ideology before the practical wishes and welfare of the local community -

– Westward Ho! Park - The Peoples Voice –  up to 3,500 signatures have been collected to save the park from being developed. TDC it seems is intent on disregarding this in favour of selling it off for development and profit.

 - The current TDC planning committee - Knapp development which has been passed in Northam - with a councillor who previously voted against the development of 58 holiday units absent and a replacement councillor refused the possibility to stand in, councillor Rosemary Lock used her casting vote to swing the inquiry in favour of the development going ahead. This development would never have been passed if the absent councillor had simply remembered to ask another councillor on the planning committee to stand in for her. The council proceeded to pass the development and then only afterwards amend the rules in their constitution so that a replacement councillor could stand in for an absent councillor in future.

Traffic impacts in communities –

When the issue is brought into question on a proposed development and its effects on the local community Devon county council highway consultants standard protocol is to conclude that if the impact is not severe then there is no reason to object.

The UK

-  At a national level there are approximately 600,000 that are left empty year after year. There are 700,000 houses that have planning permission but are not built as the builder tries to make more money by delaying building until a more profitable time should occur. Additionally 1,500,000 homes are only lived in for two weeks of the year in the UK. That amounts to 2.8 million empty houses ready to be lived in today if they had a government CPO (compulsory purchase order) on them.

Additionally to this there is a large surplus of vacant flats above shops which could be made available with alternative entrances being constructed with the right impetus. Also many offices, shops and pubs could be converted into residential use.  This is possible because there is a readily available amount of office accommodation and a lack of demand for shops and pubs. It is interesting to note that during WW2 1000s of houses and industrial properties were requisitioned to accommodate civilians who had been bombed out.


-there are approximately 1000 second homes, 349 of which are unoccupied for more than 6 months a year. There is also a large surplus of holiday homes with an occupancy restriction (usually 2 months). These restrictions could potentially be freed up straight away to make them available for use. Over the last year just 11 affordable houses (houses owned by housing associations and rented out) have been built and these are all on one estate in Westward Ho!

North Devon

-  At the time of writing there are 2747 people registered on Devon Home Choice which manages active applicants in North Devon and their need for affordable housing. Out of these 1501 are band E – no housing need at all, 729 are band D – low housing need, 317 – band C- medium housing need, only 200 are band B – which are seen as a high housing need.

 Potential solutions -

Place a land value tax to free up land with planning permission and triple council tax on second homes. Easing of planning permission for conversion of commercial premises to residential use and lifting the 2 month occupancy restriction on holiday homes. Councils could also use their powers to kick start bringing in accommodation over shops by providing rights of way and access at the rear of these premises. A tax on foreign buyers as in Germany is another possibility.

It would seem obvious that for any local council who truly holds and serves the best interests of each of its community’s at heart that energy and initiative would first be given to the above possibilities before allowing developers to cavalier into bulldozing through precious green and brown belt land, stripping away large amounts of the eco-system of a community in order to construct a monoculture of wimpy homes which reflect a depravity of imagination and appear to reinforce the already high levels of alienation and isolation experienced in Torridge.

Where we are heading with business as usual and the economic growth model - Looking back from 2030 -

Concreted over eco-systems, monoculture uniform wimpy homes, escalating levels of cars, continuing species extinction, resource depletion, factory farms, no wilderness, mega food superstores full to the rim with malnutritious chemically induced food, a bursting to the seams sewage system discharging into our waters, every community asset sold off to anonymous corporations whose sole aim is the maximise profits.

 If it is not soulful it is not strategic

What it seems we urgentlty require is a move away from a siloed party political politics where everyone fights their own corner without mapping the various connections between them to a form of governance that can cut through the fracturing economic frames and penetrate to the heart of the matter which is the current system which places profit over people.

What would local government look like if it was run by the community for the community?

What would a local government look like if it was run according to the practical wishes of the community and not the personal ideology of the few?

What would the shared vision of the people of Torridge look like and how could it transform the community?

So it seems we are faced with two possibilities –

Maintain the status quo with the highly destructive business as usual - PASSIVE - OBEDIENT - STAYING SILENT

OR LEAP…………….




As we grapple with what is unfolding in our local community's as a result of national planning policy some good starting questions to ask might be:

- If we probe a little deeper behind the initial appearances of good will, for whom is National planning policy really serving and benefiting?

- Is there any beauty in the plan and does the strategy have any soul?

- Collectively how can we turn the problem into the solution?

- How can we use this situation to achieve good for the largest number for future generations?

- Do we have a responsibility to use the earth’s resources responsibly and to care and preserve them for the sake of generations to come?

- Is nature a shared gift or a private possession?

Further questions - beyond fight or flight might be:

- How can we seize the moral initiative?

- How can we assert our own humanity and dignity as a people?

- How can we meet force with ridicule?

- Are we willing to refuse to submit or accept the inferior position?

- How can we expose the injustice of the system?

- How can we take control of the power dynamic?

- How can we stand our ground?

- How can we force the powers to make decisions for which they were not prepared?

- How can we recognize our own power?

- Are we willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws?






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