First, a heartfelt thanks to those who came to listen to Joglaresa in St Mary’s Church at the end of April. Also to those who bought tickets even though they could not attend on the night, and to those who have donated to KKG subsequently. Altogether, a pleasing boost to our Fighting Fund.
We are now one step closer to getting our new Local Plan over the line. At its last meeting, the Local Plan Task Group referred our draft Local Plan to be considered by the Environment and Sustainability Committee. At a meeting on 26 April, that Committee resolved to refer the draft Local Plan to a meeting of the full Council for a final decision. The meeting will take place this Thursday, 19 May. It will be up to the Councillors to decide whether to send the draft Local Plan to what is known as the Regulation 19 Consultation. This will be a final Public Consultation, during which everyone in Spelthorne can have their final say about the Plan.
A number of things should be borne in mind:
1. Strangely, it appears to some that it is only Staines which is bearing the burden in the draft Plan. But that ignores other places in the Borough where sites have been earmarked for development , and the significant threat (by our NOT having a Local Plan) to many other sites – in Staines, and everywhere else – which would otherwise be protected in our Local Plan.
The truth is that the unfortunate situation we are in (just like Boroughs the length and breadth of England) makes it necessary to address the targets sent down by Whitehall. We simply cannot ignore them. And the burden will fall on everyone in this Borough, one way or another (in addition, we might add, to the huge cost to every Council Tax payer across this Borough of the year-long appeasement moratorium on development in Staines – £939 000 – which could have been far better spent elsewhere, such as reducing the increase in everyone’s Council Tax).
2. There has been claim and counter claim in the press about the importance of those Whitehall housing targets. The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, said that the 300 000 per annum target wasn’t the be-all and end-all of planning policy. That claim was quickly denied by No 10, and Mr Gove has back-pedalled since. The truth is that those statements, and any other political statement likely to emerge on this subject, make not a single jot of difference to planning policy. Planning policy only changes when it is altered by an Act of Parliament, or a Regulation issued by the Whitehall department. The targets, most uncomfortable as they are, therefore remain, until specifically changed by legislation in one form or another.
Those hoping for the cavalry to come charging over the hill to reduce the housing targets are doomed to disappointment. In the last week, a meeting of Strategic Planning Officers from across the country with Whitehall officials could not extract a single answer on the issue of housing targets. The repeated questions to the officials were repeatedly ducked. That does not sound to us like a bugle call from the cavalry.
3. Our local Plan has been debated for going-on 100 hours in the various forums of our Council, before we even get to the meeting on Thursday. Everything that could possibly be said about it has already been said.
In the best of all possible worlds we would not be arguing like this over our new Local Plan. But we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. We have to make the best of a thoroughly undesirable situation. We have to get this Local Plan through to the Regulation 19 Consultation. If we think the Local Plan puts us in a bad situation, just think about what things would be like without a Local Plan: open season for developers to do as they please.
We sincerely hope that all Borough Councillors will do the right thing on Thursday evening.
Vote the draft Local Plan through to Regulation 19.
Please, no more Groundhog Days…