Monday, 5 December 2011

Reforming planning and how to bring power back to communities in Cornwall


I believe that Cornwall Council is not a proper body to adjudge all the planning cases around the Duchy. Below I have noted some of my criticisms of the planning process, I think some of my ideas would alleviate these concerns and have the added benefit of bringing 'localism' (aka local rule) to Cornish communities. I don't think for a moment I have all the answers so please add thoughts to the comments section with any criticisms or anything I have missed.

I believe the fundamental problem facing planning in Cornwall is the monopoly of the Unitary Authority in this process. This in a number of cases presents fundamental conflicts of interest, take for example the supermarket application in Wadebridge (Morrison's). Part of the application was buying a building owned by the authority. In Truro the Eastern District scheme counts the council as one of it's partners in the development. In Penzance the 'Option A' Route Partnership bid also had the council as a partner. So there is here a fundamental conflict of interest, whether the council's involvement influenced the committee is in every case debatable, but it remains, how can an authority be independent from bids in which they have a fundamental vested interest? One of the great losses with the 'One Cornwall' project was the loss of the six district councils and what the Americans call 'Checks and Balances', that is to say that the power of one authority is balanced out by the power of other authorities. This needs to be addressed.

The other great problem is that of the centralisation of decision making, here in Penwith we no longer have a council making decisions for this area, like everywhere in Kernow, everything is decided in Truro. The same is true of the now slimmed down strategic planning committee, made up of 21 councillors from all parties on the council, these councillors have to decide planning applications throughout Cornwall. The three sub area committees are made up of 15 councillors again cross party. Due to their number, there is a lack of geographical distribution, here in Penzance for example was have 1 councillor on both strategic planning and the west sub area. So when the harbour rigmarole went on, or the recent Sainsbury's/ heliport fiasco we had one voice. In effect people from elsewhere not answerable to the people affected made the decisions. (This is true of every area of Cornwall Penzance is just an example).

I think therefore there are two problems with Cornwall's planning system, my suggestion is that the planning committees are reformed, that the council is partly stripped of it's monopoly and local members take decisions affecting people in their towns, villages and communities. This can only come from the existing parish and town councils. I would suggest that planning should be in conjunction with local councils, I know there is at the moment consultation but there needs to be involvement at the decision making process. As a rough suggestion, half of planning committees representation should come from the town and parish councils in the area and neighbouring areas and half from the existing Cornwall councillors. It should be up to the local councils to nominate representatives from across the political parties/ independents on the respective councils. This devolution of the planning process would lead to better decision making, not only by making decisions be made by the people elected in those communities but also by opening up the planning process to other authorities. These other councils would add another dimension of thinking and would hopefully put the best interests of communities affected back to the heart of planning.

Cornwall Council claims to want devolution within Cornwall (localism), hitherto this has meant palming off services like CCTV and public toilets, but this process should not just be about administering facilities but decision making too. Town and parish councils are there to make decisions let them do this in conjunction with the council. Let's open up the decision making process, two brains are better than one, surely the same is true of councils.

On another note why not devolve parking both car parks and enforcement and the revenue it brings down to the local councils and let people elected in that area decide how to run the service and what to charge for it.