LETTER: Lincolnshire’s Strategic Planning Mess

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The sorry story of strategic planning in West Lindsey continues.

Philip Raven (MRM July 16) is correct in pointing out that it is two years since the Government published its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

At that stage the Central Lincolnshire Core Strategy had, in the opinion of its officials, advanced beyond the point where it could be revised.

The planning process had formally started on Monday June 14th 2010 following the desire of Eric Pickles, Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to have councils combine their local plans in an effort to save money.

Lincoln City, North Kesteven and West Lindsey District councils, supported by Lincolnshire County Council, all Conservative controlled at that time, were eager to be the first councils to do Mr Pickles bidding.

At the time Councillor Darren Grice, Vice Chair of the Joint Planning Committee and Conservative Leader of the City of Lincoln Council, said: “This committee demonstrates a new thinking from district councils, delivering real change for the residents of central Lincolnshire and not being enclosed by lines on a map.”

In fact it was not new thinking. Following the introduction of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act rural and urban district councils, including Market Rasen Urban District Council, set up the Lincoln Area Joint Planning Committee.

Councillor Grice’s boast that : “In central Lincolnshire we are leading the way with this approach to joint working” was most unfortunate given the slow progress of the plan and its final demise at the hands of the government planning inspector’s pre-hearing meeting in December 2013, which in normal circumstances should have been just a formality.

In March 2012, in a major shift in policy, Conservative Minister Greg Clark replaced the 1,100 pages of the Government’s planning policy with the NPPF of just 100 pages. Mr Clark was accused of hypocrisy, having staunchly opposed house-building while in opposition.

As West Lindsey has no new local plan in place planning officers can only refer to the NPPF when dealing with applications from developers. Result - developers 1, communities 0.

Following the demise of the Central Lincolnshire Core Strategy the councils took stock and earlier this year announced a consultation schedule on the new Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.

West Lindsey District Council was delegated to arrange public consultations for the plan starting with a launch in April 2014. The launch, in Lincoln, was two months late, not an auspicious start.

At least one large parish council asked West Lindsey for an officer to explain to them how the process would work. Their request was dismissed on the grounds that West Lindsey had no intention of attending parish council meetings owing to the large number of parishes in their district.

According to the published timetable the public and parish councils will be invited to respond to questions set by WLDC in October and November. There will be an opportunity to comment on the draft plan this time next year. They hope the plan will finally go to a public enquiry in two years from now so that the plan takes effect by December 2016.

The current state of strategic planning in these parts is a shambles.

No real progress has been made in four years – and planning protection has been severely eroded during this time.

Many readers might agree that there appears to have been incompetence both on the part of councillors and their officers.

For those of you who might wonder what became of Conservative Councillor Grice who declared in 2010 “I am really pleased to have been part of something that is bigger than our formal boundaries.” - in July 2013 he was disqualified as a Lincoln City Councillor for not having attended a council meeting for over six months!

Guy Grainger

Market Rasen