Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Planning Change

I’ve been chairing an all-party investigation into the Government’s proposals to change the national and local planning policy frameworks. We’ve taken a lot of oral and written evidence and there has been a lot of comment in the media, with organizations ranging from the National Trust (NT) to the Confederation for British Industry (CBI) all determined to make their views known.

We’ve now published our report and recommendations. Because it’s all-party and because our conclusions were unanimously agreed, I hope it’s very powerful and influential.

In particular, we agreed that sustainable development requires consideration of environmental and social issues as well as the economic ones that the government wanted. And we said that the presumption that any planning application should be agreed unless it could be proved that ‘the adverse effects significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’ was just unacceptable, and ran counter to the very notion of sustainable development.

The committee was convinced that the priority for development must be ‘brownfield  first’ – brownfield basically means sites where there has previously been development.
And we said that shop and office developments need to be concentrated on existing town and district centres, not on new greenfield or out-of-centre sites.

I was particularly pleased that the committee agreed that existing sportsfields needed protection. There are rare occasions when it would be appropriate to develop on a sportsfield, but we said a like-for-like replacement must be provided.

We also agreed that new planning legislation must unambiguously confirm the supremacy of Local Plans. This means local planning decisions have to be consistent with the Local Plan. It is unacceptable that so many councils have yet to develop and adopt a new Local Plan. If they are serious about localism, this will be their chance to prove it.

Of course, you might be tempted to think this has got nothing to do with me. Well, it has. Because, if it means that

  • new development is concentrated on brownfield sites in Darnall and not on greenfield sites around Eckington and Mosborough
  • new shops and offices are concentrated in existing shopping centres and not on out-of-town greenfield sites
  • our existing sportsfields are protected
it will be much better for all of our communities.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Badger threat

As I predicted more than a year ago, this Government is determined to cull badgers.
Bovine TB is a terrible disease, endemic to cattle in the UK.  Around 25,000 cattle were slaughtered for TB control in England in 2010 with a total cost to the taxpayer of £87 million in testing and compensation for farmers. There were 2025 herd breakdowns in England in 2010.
I have consistently opposed a badger cull on 4 grounds: scientific, effectiveness, humaneness and cost. My view is supported by scientists and conservation groups, including Lord Krebs who is the leading expert in the field.
The government has now announced a trial cull in two areas. Their proposals are ineffective and will not tackle the problem of bovine TB. Their preferred option of ‘free shooting’ is not supported by the science, and may increase the problem by spreading TB.
Even on its own estimates, an extensive badger cull will only save £29 million over 10 years, out of an expected cost to the taxpayer of £1 billion.
Why is this important locally? Well, we have a good badger population spread around the area. Although many – perhaps most – local residents have never seen them, a number of local groups and individuals have been quietly ensuring that their habitat is protected. They are very concerned about these proposals and the potential impact on local wildlife.
I agree with them. I have already made my protest to the government and will continue to do so, as I believe the proposals are just wrong-headed and irresponsible. I hope that no landowner in the area will apply for a licence but, if you hear differently, please let me know.
This Conservative-led government is also committed to lift the ban on fox-hunting. What’s it got against our wildlife?