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Peter Lamb: Planning exists for a reason

Last month, I joined with hundreds of other elected representatives in calling for the Government to drop its plans designating exploratory drilling for fracking as ‘permitted development’.

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Permitted development is where any planning application of a particular type gets automatically approved. If you want to know why so many of Crawley’s office buildings have been turned into poor quality housing, without parking or even bin stores to keep the rubbish off of our high streets, it was because the Government’s made these types of office conversions permitted development.

For the council, they have been nothing but trouble, you see planning exists for a reason, it’s there to protect the whole community from developments that harm the wider community and to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is put in place to avoid future problems. Without planning we are powerless to protect the neighbourhoods from developments that enrich a few at the cost of the many and spend years playing catch-up with the problems. This opposition to ‘planning’ as a concept by the Government certainly explains a lot of the mess we now find ourselves in on the national level.

No major development should skip the planning process, but when it comes to fracking the situation becomes much more serious, depriving communities of any say on one of the most controversial environmental issues of the day. Given that the biggest UK protests against fracking took place just down the road at Balcombe, next to Crawley’s nearest reservoir, it’s an issue which really hits close to home.

Fracking involves using various chemicals to break open rocks below the groundwater level to release the fossil fuels trapped inside. While it is believed that a well-regulated system can avoid polluting water supplies, where poor regulation is in place communities have found serious health issues emerging after fracking has begun. In the rush to attract fracking the Government has left us with one of the least well-regulated systems in Europe.

Were fracking completely safe, it would still be worth asking if we can afford to delay a switch to renewable energy sources. Instead the Government is trying to ensure that the wishes of communities are by-passed, regardless of the potential risks to people’s homes and health.

A full copy of the letter can be read below:

Dear James Brokenshire MP (CC Greg Clark MP, Kit Malthouse MP, Claire Perry MP),

The UK government has proposed changes to planning rules that would allow exploratory drilling for shale gas to be considered “permitted development”, removing the need for fracking companies to apply for planning permission.

The current planning framework for shale gas provides an important regulatory process for the industry, offering necessary checks and balances by local authorities who best understand the circumstances in their areas. Crucially, it also allows communities directly affected a say in how, and whether, shale gas exploration proceeds in their neighbourhoods.

We believe that applying permitted development to exploratory shale gas drilling represents a distortion of its intention and is a misuse of the planning system. Permitted Development was originally intended to be used to speed up planning decisions on small developments – like garden sheds or erecting a fence – not drilling for shale gas.

As elected representatives of our communities, we the undersigned call for the withdrawal of this proposal, and respect for the right of communities to make decisions on shale gas activities in their areas through the local planning system.

Yours Sincerely,

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Opinion

Crawley Councillors who left Labour say they are still with Labour whilst not being Labour…eh??

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Another week and another bizarre development in the political turmoil that is Crawleys own council.

This week a letter penned by the two councillors, who made the dramatic move to leave Labour, has now been released showing how the two who have left Labour have in-fact not really left Labour and in-fact are still supporting Labour and intend to continue to support Labour whilst not being Labour but while making a ruckus of not being Labour – but are still kind of Labour in a non Labour kind of way. You follow?

What’s more, following some calls for the councillors to resign their positions now they are not representing the party their voters chose, we are reminded in the letter of how they condemn any such councillor who would dare to cling to office rather than listen to the people, just for the sake of it and how they would never do the same…

Except in this circumstance!

It’s like a carry on film at the council at the moment and who knows when it is going to change.

At a time when the town needs to come together the last thing it needs is division, but when situations like this occur then how on earth do you not call out the complete insanity of what is happening.

So a plea to both parties (PLUS INDEPENDENTS) – please just work together and stop the bickering so that you can all help the town!

You can read the letter for yourself below:

Dear Marion and Tim,

I hope that you and yours are keeping safe and well. The purpose of this email is to restate our position as independent councillors and to point out how our position as such may be helpful to the Labour Group at this time.

Of course, we are aware that Labour Groups are only permitted to enter into agreements with other groups in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort and that this can only be done in co-operation with the National and Regional Parties.

A reason for our choosing not to form a group ourselves was so that as many options remain open to guarding Labour’s manifesto and policy options as possible. If members of the Labour Group are committed to that as we are, then we do not see that there is any need to concede anything to the Tories. We took the decision not to form a group knowing that we would be ruling ourselves out of any positions that attracted a responsibility allowance and that we would have few or no opportunities to offer input as committee members.

As we have already said, we were elected on a Labour manifesto and we have re-stated our commitment to that.  We would always support policies that are consistent with Labour’s and you know that we would never betray Labour’s values and principles – to all intents and purposes, following the Labour Group whip.

We are aware that there has been a suggestion that pressure be applied to us to resign our council seats. We have always condemned those who cling to office for its own sake and have said consistently that we would never do that ourselves. No individual politician is bigger than the Party they represent, and we have always viewed this as self-serving. Added to this, the behaviour of certain Party and Group members over the last fortnight has very much tempted both of us to walk away.

However, should we resign our council seats at this time (while by elections cannot take place), it would leave residents of Bewbush, Northgate and West Green without the full representation to which they are entitled. Not only this, but this would be handing control to the Tories – they would then have a straight majority and would be able to take measures that are definitely not in accordance with Labour’s principles and values.

Even from a distance, it seems puzzling to us that – if what we hear is correct – the Labour Group have chosen to negotiate – which will always mean making concessions – with a Party that, as the Labour Group leader has put it himself, has very different politics from those of Labour.

Our differences with the Labour Party are not to do with Labour’s principles and values. Any vote of no confidence would be an endorsement (or not) of the current leader. It is not a vote of no confidence in the Labour Party, or Labour’s policies or the Labour Group as a whole. Our position regarding the current leader is firm: for reasons that we have been, and still are, prepared to explain to the Group if asked, we could not in all conscience give our votes to a leader in whom we now have even less confidence than we did at the time we resigned.

Best wishes,

Councillor Karen Sudan
Councillor Rory Fiveash

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