Is Localism an Empty Word?


Governments sometimes say they want to support ‘localism’, that is enabling communities to have democratic control over local matters, and local councils are encouraged to draw up Neighbourhood Plans. However, recent planning issues have led Ulverston’s town councillors across any political divide to express concern that local democracy is under threat. This is not about the rights and wrongs of particular planning applications. Most new developments, whether housing, shops or industrial units, will have local supporters and opponents. It is more about the principle. Should elected councillors have a real say, or should central government inspectors and big business decide what happens in places like Ulverston?

 

The debacle over the Vodaphone mast on Croftlands is a case in point. The original application was unanimously opposed by Ulverston Town Council, which can only recommend decisions to SLDC Planning. SLDC themselves then refused the application because it went against their policies. However, apparently SLDC failed to let Vodaphone know of this decision in the correct time limit. Strangely enough, this has happened to several other councils, so who knows how this happened. Vodaphone are now legally entitled to build their mast. Whatever happens on Croftlands, the government is  passing legislation which will make phone companies ‘Statutory Undertakers’ like the utility companies. They will be able to put up masts where they want, no matter how well-informed and widespread the opposition, or what councillors decide.

Is Localism an Empty Word?

Another worry is that Oakmere Homes have appealed against SLDC’s refusal to let them build more houses on land at Lund Farm. A government inspector will come to Ulverston to hear the appeal later this year. Hardly anyone in Ulverston thinks this development is a good idea: the site is mostly either rock or bog, the only access will be through Sir John Barrow Way, and it will do nothing to lower the ever-present flood risk in south Ulverston. However, Oakmere Homes have successfully appealed several such decisions in south Cumbria, and it seems that inspectors may be reluctant to turn down housing schemes. It is ironic, though, that new-build Oakmere houses in Kendal flooded the day the appeal was lodged. Residents and local councillors have apparently submitted strong cases to the Inspectorate, and maybe, in this case, local democracy will prevail.

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