Pickles – You Are Local Decision Makers and You Will Make Exactly the Local Decision I Tell You to

How Eric Pickles has Successfully Navigated the English Planning System

There was a time when civil servents made purely factual written responses.  Today in the world of the SPAD you find deliberate ommission, deliberately misleading focus on statistics and a misdirection away from the real question and problem.  I fear to avoid challenges from SPADS civils serevents are falling into teh same hibaits.

Take the typical written response from Pickles on planning appeal statistics.

The table below shows the number of appeals since 2009-10:

Appeal decisions Allowed Dismissed
2009-10 5,852 11,443
2010-11 5,195 10,633
2011-12 5,021 9,475
2012-13 4,757 8,705
2013-14 4,884 8,995

Note: Planning inspectorate decisions, including written representations, hearings and inquiries.

The table shows that since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in March 2012, the number of appeals is lower, as is the number allowed. 99% of decisions are made locally with only approximately 1% of planning applications overturned on appeal. This is in the context of rising housing starts, higher housing construction and rising planning permissions. This means there is more local decision-making, and our reforms are supporting badly-needed new homes within a locally-led planning system.

However this is not even supported by the data

Appeal decisions Allowed % Allowed Dismissed % Dismissed Total
2009-10 5,852 33.8% 11,443 66.2% 17,295
2010-11 5,195 32.8% 10,633 67.2% 15,828
2011-12 5,021 34.6% 9,475 65.4% 14,496
2012-13 4,757 35.3% 8,705 64.7% 13,462
2013-14 4,884 35.2% 8,995 64.8% 13,879

As the proportion of local decisions supported on appeal has slightly risen since the last full year pre-NPPF.

So how then can there be a claim that there is ‘more local decision making’ – only on the absolute number of appeals, and of course increasingly developers are not going to appeals because they dont have to.

Councillors no longer make decisions.  In Greg Clarke’s memorable phrase they take them, and they take them from the instructions Pickles gives you. And the NPPF tells them to approve – although of course when the decision is Pickles, through the increased call ins taking decisions out of local hands, he will likely refuse it (unless the appellant lives in a caravan).

Localism was supposed to be a power shift but local decision taking is no sign of local power.  Planning theorist recognised this decades ago.  Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz (1970) contested the dominant explanation of the use of power in decision-making by asking how issues are suppressed and the scope of decision-making restricted. This was a challenge to Robert Dahl’s model  of power, which tended to focus on how decisions are made and who makes them. Bachrach and Baratz suggested that to fully understand power, researchers should also consider decisions that are not made—non decisions. Nondecision-making involves suppressing challenges to the status quo and suppressing the addition of new issues to an agenda.

The theory needs some modification to fit with how the exercise of central state power occurs.  The decision the LPA faces is ‘shall me fight an appeal?’ – which in many cases is betting on a three legged donkey – unless they have pulled the Neighbourhood Plan Bait and Switch.  Knowing they cannot win they don’t want to make that decision, so they either let the developer fight on non determination, or blame officers for the recommendation they have to make and pulling the bait and switch get Eric to issue a holding direction.  Local cllrs make sure they make speeches which ensure there recommendations breach the predetermination rule so they can ensure they are non decision makers.  Those cllrs left blame Eric and by the time any called in appeal takes place they claim they have  5 year supply now and disavow the original decision.  In all cases this is not an exercise of local decision making but local non decision making.  As ever the exercise of centralism in the clothing of a psudo-localism discentivises tough local choices and reverts control – the true exercise of power – to the SoS who exercises that power ever more arbitrarily based on his personal prejudices and electoral considerations rather than the disspassionate application of policy.

Eric is unwilling and unable to make any tough ministerial choose as to where the missing million new houses must go, hence his own non-decision making leads to systemic paralysis and planning failure, we dont build enough homes and those we build are poorly design, perform poorly aand are often in the wrong place, matters for which the minister disavows all responsibility.  Hence dumb tanks such the Policy Exchange can claim more and more that the planning system is failing and needs another round of half baked and counterproductive ‘reforms’ which make matters ever worse and lead to ever more non-decision making.

As the weaknesses in the psudo-locallist planning regime  becomes ever more apparent its antagonist learn more and more Peruvian submarine tactics so the system becomes holed below the waterline and as at present local plan adoption almost grinds to a complete half as the ship is so damaged it is captain calamity they unsteeerable and has no power left, and with a captain calamity of a SOS that wants nothing more than to avoid steering it and jump into a lifeboat where he can blame rocks which were on the map all the time.

Further Reading

Bachrach, Peter, and Morton S. Baratz. 1970. Power and Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dahl, Robert A. 1961. Who Governs? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Frey, Frederick. 1971. Comment: On Issues and Nonissues in the Study of Power. American Political Science Review 65 (4): 1081–1101.

 Governmentality: Notes on the Thought of Michel Foucault by Bal Sokhi-Bulley • 2 December 2014

 

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