At the July Council meeting Richard spoke to Councillors about what residents told him were the attractions of Sutton South. In a debate on the special character of Sutton he said the green, pleasant atmosphere of the Ward was carefully nutured by Sutton Council but threatened by the decisions of the remote Planning Inspectorate, unaccountable to local people. Here is the text of his speech:
“In my Ward, the planning polices of the Council have undoubtedly been highly successful in preserving the pleasant, green, suburban feel of the Ward. Residents I talk to who have moved to Sutton South from other parts of London often comment on the attractions of the area – low crime, good schools, a pleasant, green, suburban atmosphere, close to the country, close to central London. There has of course been new development over the years but the quality of what has been built has generally been of a high standard.
But I could take you on a tour of the Ward to look at developments that I am less happy with, one of them (Northumberland House) a development that exploited the Government’s “prior approval” arrangements to avoid planning controls, but al the others developments turned down by Sutton Council but then approved on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate. Some of these have been highly regrettable decisions, particularly in terms of design and overdevelopment of sometimes very small sites.
Before I became a Councillor I used to think there was a case for a body like the Planning Inspectorate as, surely, there were all these Councils up and down the country taking idiosyncratic decisions based on wildly varying local circumstances and this central body would impose some consistency of standard. What I in fact observe though is the complete opposite – it is the Inspectors whose decisions seem arbitrary, idiosyncratic, mercurial and lacking consistency, while the Council is imposing a consistent standard at a level based on extensive consultation to establish what is expected by local people.
I think our planners are doing a good job, but there is a case for wider reform of the planning system at a national level to protect the democracy of local decision-taking.”