If you recall the 2007 protest against building a block of flats in Westgate's Harold Avenue, part of the conservation area, you may also remember that the developer's appeal against a refusal, went to the Government's 'Planning Inspectorate' and like another appeal, Beach Rise in Westgate, was swiftly granted.
Last week I received notice from the council that the developer now wishes to swap the block of flats application for nine houses on the same spot (F/TH/09/0674) and so I have asked that this new application be referred back to the TDC planning committee and expect my fellow ward councillors will do the same. It's bad enough, I thought, trying to squeeze a new purpose-built apartment block into a small space in the conservation area but nine houses appears to me as excessive, to put it mildly. I'm assuming these will be the same scale model 'dolls houses' builds that have appeared elsewhere in Westgate.
Now, if you weren't aware of it already and for all those excitable readers who appear to believe that the council is at the heart of some kind of developer-driven planning conspiracy, then you may not have heard the Government is to downgrade protection on old buildings and those in conservation areas in order to "benefit developers" and "reduce the number of applications for planning permission rejected on heritage grounds."
Today's papers report that planning powers on all "major infrastructure projects" – such as new windfarms, pylon lines, power stations and trunk roads – will be taken away from locally-elected politicians and given to a powerful new "superquango" which will decide even the most controversial scheme in only a matter of months.
These unelected and I assume, highly paid commissioners on the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will start work in March, have been given sweeping new powers to grant planning permission, cancel Green Belt protection, allow developers to seize private land, remove footpaths and close roads. As a consequence, local councils and ministers will no longer have any decision making role in the process and public hearings will be curtailed. Even the scope for court challenges to the commission's work will be limited.
From our own point of view, trying to protect our green space here in Thanet, the interesting part is:
"The new policy says that local authorities should allow the demolition or alteration of historic buildings where the "material harm" caused to an area's heritage "is outweighed by the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of the proposed development". The policy says that this "is likely to benefit developers… for example, it should reduce the number of applications for planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent rejected on heritage-related grounds".
So, from the point of view of a concerned ward councillor or perhaps even the council and the hard-pressed planning committee, the outcome of planning law is increasingly becoming a gamble, where, on appeal or for large projects, one's Government-supported opponent appears to be throwing loaded dice. Where Harold Avenue is involved, I'll challenge the new plans but given the fact that the Planning Inspectorate has already rejected the council's refusal and given consent for a block of flats on the same space, it would give me some comfort to believe that both sides were playing with a new set of dice.