'SUSPICIONS OF PLANNING GREEN PAPER'

The Times – 3 April 2002

Your correspondents (April 1, etc) are right to be suspicious of the Government's Green Paper on changes to the planning regime.

A major public inquiry is under way about a proposal to build a huge container port at Dibden Bay in my constituency. I expect it to produce a detailed and dispassionate report on the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments deployed. If the inquiry concludes that there is no overriding national need for a container port here, given more suitable alternative sites elsewhere, it will then be up to the politicians to decide whether to override the inquiry result and insist on allowing Dibden Bay to be built.

In the Green Paper, however, it is intended that Parliament take a "decision in principle" in advance of any inquiry, thus putting the cart before the horse. Can one honestly believe that even the more salient arguments in favour or against a project like Dibden Bay would receive an impartial or dispassionate hearing in a chamber or committee room divided on party lines?

At present, the Labour Party enjoys a huge parliamentary majority. The Labour-dominated city of Southampton – which wants Dibden Bay to be built – would have every reason to suppose that such a Parliament would be heavily biased in its favour on political grounds. The result would be prejudiced in advance and objectors would face a far greater uphill struggle.

In short what is proposed would destroy local democratic control of the planning process.

Any government with a large parliamentary majority may be tempted to try to bury local democracy in this way. Sooner or later, however, the boot will be on the other foot and it will be a Labour Opposition's turn to complain about a prejudicial arrangement. 

Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Cadnam, Hampshire