Planning Policies are Fossilized (Like our Diminishing Energy Supplies)Posted: March 27, 2012
Why is our county council so intent upon encouraging developments that are out of all proportion to local needs?
I suspect that a fossilized outlook prevails, an outlook which accepts as inevitable that ‘development’ requires large, probably multinational, organisations with pockets full of cash. These big players can provide ‘planning gain’ or bungs for projects the council wants but cannot afford.
The multinationals have long supply chains which are inherently unstable and unreliable. We haven’t taken sufficient notice of this, because we have been living through the false affluence of the Oil Age, which is now unravelling.
County council planners may be aware of Peak Oil as individuals, but the planning policies they have to work with were written in the past, when scarcely anyone envisaged a future with LESS of everything to share around. Planning policies assume that, every year, there will be
- More cars on the roads, therefore a need for more roads.
- Sufficient fuel for unlimited numbers of vehicles.
- Separation of homes from work zones, because travel will be cheap and fast.
- Work in a world of global supply chains, in which it is economic to transport even low-value goods across the world.
- Rising household incomes.
- Households insisting on more choice.
- Households buying large quantities of food and goods that are never eaten or are rarely used.
- Tourism, tourism and more tourism.
All of the above depend on cheap oil, and cheap oil has gone. There will probably be price undulations, but the overall direction is UP.
Planning policies do not allow for such a radical shift in the way we live, and therefore condemn us to unnecessary future dereliction, as superstores fall silent and carless households look for local supplies of essentials.
Here in Carmarthenshire we have planning applications for eye-watering quantities of shopping space and of new industrial units, as if there were no recession. The planners tend to favour BIG applications even if they mean tearing up their own planning guidelines, as in the case of the Sainsbury’s superstore application for the little town of Llandeilo, on land likely to flood and anyway not zoned for retailing. The planners are also recommending approval for an even larger Sainsbury’s just 10 miles away – this is a rural area, remember – at Cross Hands. The main reason for the enthusiasm to help Sainsbury’s cast its net over the county seems to be ‘choice’. The next stage of the thinking process is missing, not because planners are dumb but because planning policies are cast in the image of the expansionist recent past. Logically, retail capacity in excess of the population’s ability to spend will reduce choice because stores will close. Carte blanche for new superstores to open, and to let them compete to the death, is an invitation for monopoly to emerge. That is the unfettered capitalist model, in which competition is valued above people.
The promise of choice is generally a false offer. What difference is there between Tesco cornflakes and Sainsbury’s cornflakes? Between ASDA milk and Morrisons milk? Food superstores have loads of processed foods in boxes, and even if the brands are different, the foods are often manufactured in the same factories. Food superstores encourage us to buy more stuff than we need, and that is a major reason for their spread over our crowded United Kingdom.
I would love to change the planning regulations to favour small-scale and local enterprise, rooted in communities rather than imposed from outside. Sadly the trend in 2012 is to shred the supposed sustainability agenda and to change the meaning of the word ‘sustainable’ to mean growth at all costs. The abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission in March 2011 was a signpost to this outdated growth-is-all agenda.