November 5 2009


Planning gain

October's meeting of the county council considered my Notice of Motion requiring that inspectors' written decisions on planning appeals should be routinely included in the reports to the planning committee.
This is already the practice in the National Park authority and it seemed to me that having ready access to expert interpretation of planning policy would have educational value for members of the planning committee.
After all, the county council is big into lifelong learning and, from a practical point of view. it must be desirable that every effort is made to avoid planning decisions being overturned on appeal.
Predictably, this modest little reform was voted down by the Independent Political (sic) Group block vote.
One of the reasons given for rejecting my proposal was that planning inspectors' decisions do not create a precedent.
While that may be true, they are what the lawyers call "persuasive" and, as the report admits, "they can be an useful interpretation of the policy position in relation to the particular application being considered.." i.e it would be foolish to ignore them altogether.
I was also intrigued by a press cutting that Grumpette had taken from the Tivyside Advertiser dated 1 September 2009.
This referred to the eco-village near Glandwr which was granted planning permission following an appeal hearing by a Welsh Assembly appointed inspector.
According to the newspaper report, county council Leader John Davies had said this decision was "wrong" because it "sets a dangerous precedent and will spark further similar applications all over this area."
As George Orwell said: "Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."
Cllr Davies also told the Tivyside: "We have to try to explain to local people who want to build a house in Glandwr that we cannot give them permission for one house so that a member of their family can stay in the locality because their plan is outside the black line of the settlement and therefore outside planning policy".
He might also find it difficult to explain why these rules restricting development in the open countryside don't appear to apply to cabinet members (No udder conclusion) (Alright for some) (Worker's paradise) .
I hear of other applications for houses in the open countryside where size restrictions are imposed because of the "functional needs test".
One approval that was recently brought to my attention had a condition attached that its floor area must not exceed 1,500 sq ft.
This is little more than half the size of the dwellings approved in the cases of Cllr Davies and his deputy Cllr Jamie Adams (Size matters) (Worker's paradise).
My own view is that there is no fundamental difference between societies where those in power receive favourable treatment under the planning rules and those where the motorways have special lanes reserved for the nomenklatura's Zils.

Questionable Economics

The Monetary Policy Committee has voted extend Quantitative Easing (QE) by throwing another £25 billion into the pot, bringing the total to £200 billion.
Yet, despite this massive cash injection and zero interest rates, the UK economy continues to shrink.
There are serious commentators who say that QE is merely putting off the day of reckoning and the real problems will arise when the Bank of England begins to withdraw the money from the economy.
As this is likely to coincide with tax rises designed to repair the damage to the Government's finances the message from this doom mongers is: "You ain't seen nothing yet".
I fear they may be right.
Eventually economic growth will resume - it can't go on falling forever - and the recession will be said to be over.
"Economic recovery" is the phrase used to describe this process but I think this is something of a misnomer because it doesn't mean the patient is restored to full health, merely that it is getting better.
As the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervin King, keeps telling us, it is the level of economic activity, rather than the growth rate, that is important.
Or, put another way, 10% of £5 is less than 2% of £30.
Another problem with economic recoveries is that they are chasing a moving target.
The UK economy has shrunk by 6% in the past twelve months but that is only part of the story because in normal times it would have been expected to rise by about 2% (the trend growth rate).
So the net loss of output compared to the trend is 8%.
And that loss of output is baked into the economic cake and to return us to the position we would have been in had the recession not occurred (complete recovery) will require many years of above-trend growth.
Not easy to achieve in an environment with higher interest rates and taxes coupled with the reversing of QE.

Easy Merlot

WS has e-mailed looking to make some easy money (Merlot, actually) from this weekend's rugby internationals.
He expresses his willingness to venture a bottle that Wales will beat the All Blacks and another that the Aussies will account for England.
Naturally, I couldn't wait to take him up on this generous offer.
By Sunday evening we will know which of us is suffering from nationalistic delusions.
Probably both!
Though I have to admit that his record in calling these results is much superior to mine.
However, with Jonny back in harness, I have a feeling the tide is about to turn and by April next year, I will be proudly wearing my newly-minted Grand Slam sweater.
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