Official contempt for the public
On January 9th I wrote a piece about the proposed wind-farm overlooking the historic battlefield of Naseby, and I undertook to write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP. I also promised to share his reply with you. I attach it below. Clearly Mr. Pickles is a very busy man, so he referred my letter to Sir Michael Pitt, Chief Executive of The Planning Inspectorate.
Sir Michael writes with commendable courtesy. His mastery of mandarin-speak is exemplary. It is worthy of the BBC’s “Yes Minister”, so much so that I wonder if the BBC consulted him on the script. That being so, and in the interests of clarity and the avoidance of doubt, let me offer you my paraphrase in more earthy and vernacular terms.
He is saying, in effect, that we local oiks, Luddites and Nimbies can do whatever we want, but it won’t make any difference and he won’t care a scrap. He isn’t interested in normal planning criteria, but only in national policy on energy and wind farms (which is, of course, not really a national policy at all, but a Brussels/EU policy). We can organise our little protest groups, set up our web-sites, raise funds with our wine-and-cheese parties and our Quiz Nights, hire our lawyers and consultants, engage our local papers and local authorities, make our presentations at local planning enquiries, win our cases and break open the champagne in celebration.
But it’s all for nothing, because the government’s Planning Inspectorate (acting as the local face of Brussels policy) will ignore all we’ve done, and reverse the decision on appeal, never mind that local people, local media, local authorities and even national organisations like English Heritage are opposed. The Inspectorate doesn’t care about the heritage or the environment, or the health issues or the housing blight, and still less about the utter futility of wind farms in economic and environmental terms. Oh No. National/Brussels policy is everything. We could all have saved the time, and the trouble, and the money, and the heartache, and sat at home in our slippers and let them get on with it, because that’s what they’re going to do anyway.
I particularly recognise this problem, because it is exactly what happened with Low Spinney, in Leicestershire, and I now have 400 foot turbines within a mile of my home.
Localism? Forget it. That’s for winning elections, not for informing policy. Here’s Sir Michael’s letter:
Dear Mr. Helmer,
Land to the south of the A14 and north of Haselbach, Kelmarsh
I am writing further to your e-mail to the Rt. Hon Eric Pickles dated 8th January regarding the above planning appeal decision. Your correspondence has been passed to me, as the Planning Inspectorate has responsibility for the planning appeal process.
You may be aware that this appeal was the subject of a question addressed by Baroness Hanham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government, during the parliamentary debate held on Tuesday 17 January. Baroness Hanham expressed the view that the decision has been independently reached by a Planning Inspector acting on behalf of the Secretary of State and is final unless successfully challenged in the High Court.
I note your concerns about the possible implications of such decisions on the localism agenda. I can, however, assure you that whilst appeal decisions are made at the national level, they are informed by evidence submitted by the parties locally. This would include the degree of compliance with local planning policies and the views of local residents.
I am unable to add to this except to say that, due to the strict timescales in place, any High Court Challenge must be lodged by January 30th 2012.
He knows very well, of course, that while local groups may raise tens of thousands of pounds to fight their case locally, they are most unlikely to be able to fund an appeal to the High Court. I should stress here that I mean no personal criticism of Sir Michael. He is merely doing his job. On the contrary, I blame Brussels, and the pusillanimous politicians in London who have accepted the EU policy.
Come to think of it, perhaps my paraphrase of Sir Michael’s letter was unnecessarily long. In plain English, the letter says “B****r Off”.