( Letter from Peter Jay* to his MP )
31 October 2018
Robert Courts MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Think you for your letter of 24 October, received today, about our fight with other local town and parish councils against the mortal threat to our communities represented by Cherwell, district council’s draft plan to replace the green belt between Oxford and Woodstock by a suburbanised sprawl as a contribution to Oxford’s alleged, unproven and massively challenged ‘unmet housing need’.
I thank you for your courtesy and time in answering my letter; but I ask for your indulgence and more of your time so that I can explain more fully why I am so disappointed and frustrated by your interpretation of your role. It sounds friendly, but sidesteps entirely the issue on which we need your full-on support, not just token letters to the local authority passing on our concerns.
You write as though – indeed you actually say – that the local authorities are the decision-makers; and you imply that as an MP you cannot become directly involved. This, though a nice official fiction, is the opposite of the truth.
Large swathes of Britain are now being devastated by a developer free-for-all because in 2012 the government embraced the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which set out quite deliberately to castrate local democratic control of development on the basis of established planning principles so that developers could do almost whatever they liked; and so we read today in the newspapers about the multi-million £ bonuses their bosses are now reaping.
This was the pay-off for the Faustian deal made in preparation for the 2010 election whereby developers and their fellow-travellers bankrolled the Conservative party. The NPPF worked by telling planning authorities that they must have a local plan which complied in scale and in land supply with targets set by unelected enterprise partnerships appointed by Whitehall and fully representing developer interests. If local councils did not comply, government inspectors would, on appeal, nod through whatever the developers proposed. Terrified of losing even their nominal powers local authorities, like West Oxfordshire and Cherwell capitulated and proposed local plans which they knew to be – and had earlier said – were totally unjustified on demographic and planning grounds. Their decision-making was that of a traveller who surrenders his treasure to the highwayman who has a knife to his throat.
Nothing to the purpose will be achieved by addressing the chief executive of Cherwell. She has her excuses well polished and has neither the wish nor the power to overturn the NPPF by which she is gagged and bound and from which all the rest ineluctably flows. We do not need a continued dialogue with those who are powerless. They fully understand why what is happening is utterly wrong; but as the leader of Cherwell Council repeatedly said when commending this local plan, ‘we have no choice’.
It is to ministers and to Whitehall that the ‘dialogue’ needs to be addressed – and in robust terms. We need and want you to fight with and for us against these wrongs, whether they manifest themselves in the plan to suburbanise the ‘Wolverstock’ slice of the green belt or in the even cruder scandal of the unwanted Oxford-Cambridge expressway or in other sacrifices of our communities and our country to the rapacity of the developers. When you write, as you regularly do, in the local press and online, about your work in Westminster, we would like to hear more about your engagement with the red meat of these vital matters and less fluff about the number of babies you have kissed in your ceaseless service of your constituents.
This is not in any way a party matter. Labour offers little hope on these issues. But it go to the heart of your pledge when first elected to serve all your constituents. Forget the babies and instead give a few well-chosen ministers a bloody nose.
I may share this letter locally and publicly, since there is nothing private or confidential about it.
* Peter Jay, determined campaigner for better decisions in the countryside, is former UK Ambassador to the USA, broadcaster, journalist, chair of ROAR (Rural Oxfordshire Action Rally), member of NNGO. See also his article ‘Planning – the failure of government‘ on this site: https://www.cityvoice.co/thefailureofgovernment .
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