Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Playing the long game - the Planning Reform Bill & The Longdendale Bypass

Over the past few months, we've increasingly been forming conclusions about possible reasons why this Public Inquiry (PI) is facing the massive delays that it is. We think it's likely that the Labour Government - in the midst of a 'managed decline' - simply does not want to be the party to make a decision about this road - or at least the wrong decision for the Labour Party in Tameside, and the Labour MPs James Purnell and Tom Levitt. Much better to leave any decision to the Tories, and it will suit the propaganda of the local politicians.

Isn't it funny that whilst the likes of Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the Longdendale Siege Committee mewl and puke over the slow progress of the PI, local MPs and politicians don't express their concerns in public, nor write to the Inspector or the Highways Agency to urge for progress in the way objectors do? Do they know something that we and the regional and local cannon fodder for their scheming don't?

Indeed, are there other reasons for the delays? Well, it seems to us that the quiet but sinister progress of a major piece of Planning legislation - the Planning Reform Bill - may shed some like on the surely tactical reasons for the delays in the resumption of the PI.

The Bill seeks to leave it to future Governments to declare 'National Policy Statements' which identify major developments that are in the 'National Interest'. A newly created 'Infrastructure Planning Commission' - unelected and unaccountable, natch - would make a final decision on these schemes, obviating the need for Public Inquiries. It's the stuff of the somewhat damp dreams of the otherwise impotent Longdendale Siege Committee.

Grey Gordon's Goons have trumpeted the Bill as being a way to cut cost and delays, and also as a way to push through 'Green' projects - Orwellian code words for Nuclear Power Stations and 'cosmetic energy projects' like (Pissing in the) Wind Farms.

And despite the fact that Bourgeois Reformists like Friends of the Earth have tried to persuade the Government otherwise, the Bill has now passed it's third reading in the House of Commons. Unless the Lords mangle it too much, it will become law by possibly next year. The failure of the reformist approach to this issue is writ large in FoE's 'hope' that another unelected and unaccountable lot - the House of Lords - will allow the great unwashed some 'climate change' sugar to coat the bitter 'planning' pill.

So what does this mean in the context of the Longdendale Bypass?

Firstly, although the PI has been dragged out by the State rather than the objectors (I make no apologies for delaying tactics!), we are already hearing a clamour about Red Tape, delays etc. To some, this PI entirely justifies the legislation.

It could also mean that another benefit of the 'long game' the Highways Agency are playing is that if the PI is somehow axed, then the Scheme will simply be resurrected under the new rules. Similarly, if a future Tory government drop the scheme and then decide to bring it back, a new planning environment will exist to speed it through. That really would be 'foul play'.

And the delays surely render the Inspector, John Watson, under suspicion. This is his first major PI, and he has served the system well by allowing the HA to ride it roughshod. Would it be cynical to suggest that he might be after a job in the future Infrastructure Planning Commission? If he is, then he's going about it the right way (excluding the objectors and the general public), albeit in the wrong fashion (slow, delays etc) - if you know what we mean.

We'll be keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the PRB, and we'll also be sure to contrast it with PI developments along the way.

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