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p a n y ’s p revious app l ic a tio n to build on a neig hbouring site, and is sure to reject th is one. But even if it does, T esco can go over its head to the S ecre ta ry o f S ta te for Wales — a m an w ho is no t exactly ren ow n ed for favouring the in te rests o f local com m un itie s over those o f developers.

M o nm o u th ’s s itu a tio n is exceptional only in th a t its com m unity , its id io sync ra t ic a r c h i te c tu re and fragm en ts o f its local econom y rem a in in ta c t . I f Tesco’s a p p l ic a t io n goes ah e ad , it will su c cum b to the forces w h ich a lre ady afflict th e rest o f us — th e hom ogenizatio n which, paradoxically, leads inexo rab ly to a tom iz a tio n . M o nm o u th ’s peculiarities will yield to th e universal. T h e an cho rs o f belonging, em bedded in local ch a r a c te r and th e local econom y , will find no purchase in the sh iftin g sands o f g lobotrash.

T h is process, which has taken place all over B r ita in , is ab le to h ap p e n only because o f a series o f m onstrous d is to r tio ns o f th e way land-use decisions are m ade. U n t i l we have dem ocratized the use a n d d is t r ib u t io n o f ou r most fund am e n ta l resource, we can expect to rem a in helpless in th e face o f a creeping s ta n d a rd iz a t io n which serves only those who set th e s ta ndards.

A few stree ts from where I live, a c o n s o r t iu m b a s ed in H o n g K ong w an ts to build a condom in ium for v isitin g business people. Local folk d o n ’t like th e idea, as they feel th a t so m any people com ing and going will th r e a te n the cohesion o f th e ir neighbourhood. Slowly they have been d iscovering th a t a group o f anonym ous financiers liv ing on th e o th e r side of th e world has more pow er over w hat h ap p e n s on th e ir doorsteps th a n they do.

LOCAL PEOPLE CAN make their views ab o u t a p la nn in g applicatio n known to th e ir local au th o r i ty , which should, o f course, take them in to account when m aking its decisions. But any developer who doesn’t like a local a u th o r i ty ’s decision is en title d to appeal to th e E nv iro nm en t D e p a r t m en t o r the Welsh Office. O b jec to rs have no such rights if th e decision goes ag a in s t them .

Going to appeal is th rea te n ed by developers more often th a n it is used. Local au th o ritie s know th a t they can ill afford to fight expensive cases. T im e and again they give in to th is blackmail a n d le t the d evelopm en t go ahead.

A developer whose appeal fails can sim ply resubm i t a n o th e r p la nn in g a p plication and s ta r t the process all over again. In th e H am p s h ire villages o f Hook and Rotherw ick , for exam p le , local people sp en t everything they had — £62,000 — in f ighting a houseb u i ld e r ’s a t tem p t to m e rge th e ir villages by means o f an enorm ous d e velopm ent. T h ey won th e ir case a t the public inquiry. But now th a t th e ir financial and m o ral resources have been exhausted, the developer has subm i tte d a new app l ic a tio n to build on th e sam e piece o f land.

In case such b lu n t in s t rum e n ts a re insufficient, p ro p e r ty sp e cu la to rs have even heavier weapons a t th e ir disposal. Developers have long been allow ed to modify th e ir p la nn in g app l ic a tio n s in o rd e r to get perm ission. T h is en t i t le m en t is fairly unobjectionable — they may, for in s tance, offer to build some low-cost homes a longside the expensive ones th ey ’re erecting, to help o u t a council w ith its housing p roblem .

B u t th e y r o u t i n e l y a b u s e th is reasonable provision by offering in ducem en ts which have no th in g to do w ith th e orig in a l developm en t. A su p e rm a rk e t chain m igh t p ropose to build a sw imm ing pool on the o th e r side o f town, for exam p le , o r to restore a council’s offices. In creasingly, they offer the local au th o r i ty cash.

T h ese p ractices, which p la n n e r s call “ off-site p la nn in g g a in ” and the re s t o f us call b rib ery , are, according to the D ep a r tm en t o f th e E nv iro nm en t “ o u t side the scope o f th e p la n n in g p ro cess” . Y et councillors boast openly o f the am en itie s o r the cash th ey’ve secured for th e ir w ards. No offer is too outrageous to propose. I n S tornow ay last J u n e , Safeway offered th e W estern Isles Council sports facilities w o rth £375,000 i f it would agree no t to let the Co-op build a com peting store. To its c red it, th e council rejected the offer — b u t on m oral g rounds, no t legal ones. Last year the Law Lords ru led th a t , despite the DoE’s advice, such b la ta n t a t tem p ts to pervert th e p la nn in g system a re not lawful.

THE PROCESS FREQUENTLY goes a s tep fu rth e r , in to th e realm s o f u n d isp u ted illegality. W h e re a local au th o r i ty is bo th selling la nd o f its own to a developer a n d decid in g w h e th e r to g r a n t p la nn in g perm issio n th e re , the tem p ta t io n to raise th e price o f the la nd on th e u n d e r s ta n d in g th a t p e r m ission will be g ra n te d can be overwhelm ing. In d eed , as sales o f council la nd a re often “ subject to p la nn in g perm issio n” , conflict o f in te re s t c an be inbu ilt. T h is issue is especially p e r t i n en t now th a t th e g o v e rnm e n t’s R u ra l W h i te P ap e r has allow ed local a u th o r ities to keep n in e ty per cen t o f the receip ts from th e sale o f th e ir sm a llholdings, th e re b y g rea tly in c reasing th e in centive to sell th em to developers in defiance o f th e ir own published plans.

W h ile we have p recious little in volvem en t in decisions to e rect b u i ld ings, p ub lic in q u ir ie s for ro ad schem es provide even fewer oppo r tu n i t ie s for genuine p ub lic engagem en t. T h e te rm s o f an in q u iry a re set in advance by the D e p a r tm e n t o f T r a n s p o r t . A s to nishingly, th ey exclude any consid e ra tio n o f th e schem e ’s objectives a n d the d e p a r tm e n t ’s policies. T h e ob je c to rs ’ key a rg um e n ts , in o th e r words, are s tru ck o u t before d iscu ssion begins.

T h e decision to bu ild th e road is m ade before th e period o f public consu l ta t io n s ta r ts . All th a t is left to decide is w h ich ro u te th e ro ad should take. W o rst o f all, th e DoT an d its q u an g o th e H ighw ays Agency a c t as bo th p rom o te r a n d decision-m aker. T h e d e p a r tm e n t pu ts th e schem e forw a rd , th e agency steers it th ro ugh the consu lta tio n process, an d th e d e p a r t m en t th en decides w h e th e r o r not it s h o u l d go a h e a d . T h e d e c i s i o n em erges, in o th e r words, from w h a t is essentially an in te rn a l discussion, a sm all p a r t o f w h ich th e public is allow ed to w itn ess b u t , in p rac tic e , not to influence.

T h e resu lts o f these d is to rtio n s affect every a sp ec t o f o u r lives. T h ey lead to la nd uses w h ich reflect no t o u r needs b u t only those o f th e developers. D e re lic t la nd su ita b le for housing in city centres is used in s te ad for office blocks nobody w an ts , o r left id le for years as sp ecu la to rs w a it for th e price to rise. S uperstores a re dum p e d onto com m unities w h ich d o n ’t w an t them , le ad ing to a m a jo r n e t loss o f em p loym en t and rem oving th e la s t vestiges o f consum e r control over p ro ductio n . Roads w hich ex a ce rb a te r a th e r th a n solve our traffic p ro b lem s a re bu i l t because th e re a re no legal m eans o f opposing them .

JU ST AS IM PO R TA N T a re th e effects th a t these anom a lies have on o u r sense o f self. O n e o f th e m a jo r com ponents of belonging is th e ab i lity to identify w ith a place. T h is id en tifica tio n requires, above all else, a stake in ou r su r ro u n d ings. W h ile such g la rin g dem ocratic deficits persist, s takeholding will rem a in no th in g b u t an em p ty prom ise.

O u r exclusion from decision-m aking is even more a p p a r e n t in the country side. For th e people o f D o rchester-on

R e s u rg e n c e N o . 176 1 5

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