Decision-making will be random again for plans

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This Planning Policy Statement (PPS) would apparently authorise one person, The Minister, alone and at a stroke to usurp the policies decided by Tynwald.

It is also contrary to the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1999, specifically Section 3 (4) ‘Every planning policy statement shall be in general conformity with the development plan; and in case of any inconsistency between the planning policy statement and the provisions of the development plan, those provisions shall prevail’.

Any decision in accordance to this PPS and contrary to the Strategic plan will thus surely be ultra vires and open to legal challenge, thereby further slowing up the ‘planning’ process?

The Manx Government decided in 1982 to stop random one-off developments and ad hoc decision making, and adopted land-use zoning and protection policies via the 1982 Development Plan. It has subsequently built on that foundation with Planning Circulars, Local Plans and the Island Strategic Plan. All of this has allowed the island to grow in a fair and predictable manner without jeopardising the island’s economy. More likely it has assisted the economy by allowing builders and developers to know where and generally what they can build, and also where they can not, thus saving wasteful and abortive applications which consumed their time and that of the planners processing these wayward applications. New schools, new sewage treatment works, new housing, new industrial estates, etc. have all proceeded because of the planning system, not despite it.

The only applications to be refused (and these are very few) have been because they would be so seriously damaging to public amenity (visual, highways, safety, etc.) such as to outweigh any economic benefit.

Of course, the planning system is not perfect but refining it takes care and consideration, not knee-jerk unsubstantiated reactions. What is needed at the moment are not changes to the system, but changes within the administration of the system. Deficiencies in applications are identified too late in the day, leading to delays whilst correct or complete plans are sought from applicants, leading to re-advertisement of the applications and further time for objections.

The Local Plans and the Island Strategic Plan have all been put out for public consultation, revision, Public Inquiry and debate by Tynwald before being adopted.

This is now going to be ignored. The PPS is a unilateral policy to return to random decision-making by one person over-riding the considerations of professionals and advisors, and is to be implemented immediately (from Feb 2012); how can that be described as ‘consultation’ or democratic?

Perversely, the PPS in the most part already describes the existing planning process very well, but insidiously introduces an emphasis of economic benefit (not defined) as the most important consideration for allowing development. This fails to recognise that some developments can be adverse to the economy; for example, allowing the countryside to be developed will deter ramblers and visitors coming here to enjoy the natural beauty.

The PPS does not state who will assess the ‘the economic benefit’ or how. The Department of Economic Development and its previous incarnations, and the Department of Culture and Leisure (or various previous incarnations e.g. Tourism) do not have a good track record on the assessment of long-term benefits and costs;- e.g. Mount Murray, Jurby Airships, the Film Studio.

The environment and natural history are economic assets, as well as culturally important to the Manx people, and these could be seriously damaged by runaway inappropriate developments. This could result in a downturn of visitors with a concomitant negative economic impact.

If the department and professional planning officers have been involved with drafting this ill-defined and ill-thought out proposal then I am seriously disappointed. In parts it is not even grammatically correct; Para 10 (iii) ‘recognise that one of the benefits of economic development will that it may attract …’. What does that mean?

This is the most retrograde step ever seen in IoM planning since the 60s decision to allow a ‘limited’ number of mansions in the countryside; which never delivered the supposed financial benefits but did produce some mansions that stick out like sore thumbs.

GEOFFREY CLARK

Douglas

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