Winslade Park: When Is a Public Consultation Not a Public Consultation?

From a Correspondent:

Is This How Community Involvement in Planning Development Should Work in East Devon? 

The principle guiding community engagement is to ensure that those who will be affected by a development have a genuine opportunity to have their constructive ideas, as well as their opinions taken on board – but the reality is something quite different!

A very few number of Clyst St Mary residents (actually only 21 people) are in the process of being invited by Avalon Planners (acting on behalf of Burrington Estates) to view the Reserved Matters detailed plans for the Winslade Park 79 new homes (39 on green field space historically protected by the Local and Neighbourhood Plans and 40 x four-storey apartments opposite a Grade II* Listed Manor House).

However, this Public Consultation has been significantly limited by Avalon (allegedly due to Covid) to only three one-hour sessions tomorrow afternoon, on 29th July 2021, from 14.00 hrs –18.00 hrs with a restricted allowance of only 7 residents able to attend at each one hour session, resulting in the grand total of 21 residents being selected by Avalon (on a first come first serve basis), with the chosen few only having 19 hours’ notice to apply for one of the sessions!

Those lucky enough to play this lottery had previously been earmarked by a very specific Burringtons’ leaflet drop that included only those existing homes that are directly adjacent to the 79 proposed new housing developments. Personal names and addresses were mandatory for Avalon’s future selection of attendees to view these detailed plans.

Furthermore, residents have been told to only apply for one person per household to attend a session, leaving many working couples/families unable to attend (no evening sessions are provided!) and, of course, this is the first week of the school holidays – so many residents have opted this week for a holiday away from their homes, which further limits the numbers able to attend!

Since there were around 200 objections to the Outline Application for these homes -only 21 attendees for a Reserved Matters Consultation seems a miniscule proportion of the resident numbers who would wish to view and comment on these plans! 

In December 2020, EDDC Planning Committee approved the entire Hybrid Outline Application (20/1001/MOUT), specifically praising the Developers’ offers of substantial economic benefits within their sizeable commercial/employment proposals also contained in the overall masterplan. 

These economic offers resulted in the Committee ignoring the protection policies in both their own Local and this village’s Neighbourhood Plans – but post-Covid will these economic proposals ever reach such high expectations

Hopefully the detailed plans should be displayed online at a later date for residents to view – so that ‘ticks the transparency box’ doesn’t it?  Well….No…. unfortunately it doesn’t   – because many people cannot negotiate ‘the minefield’ that is the EDDC Planning website, and many online images of plans are often indistinct, vague, complicated and confusing for laypeople, who wish to be confident that they fully comprehend the scale, massing and height of the buildings that will overlook them! 

As the entire Winslade Park masterplan proposals result in a very large-scale development in this historic, rural village – the Planning Committee recommended that Burringtons should keep the local community fully informed of their future plans by issuing an Informative Condition on the Outline Approval – but with such restrictions being imposed on the number of attendees at this Public Consultation – Is the local authority steering this development or is this another Developer-led scheme?  

Perhaps, these Developers are trying to severely restrict the numbers of attendees at a Public Consultation to limit public comments on their proposals that could result in them needing to make modifications to their plans before submission to EDDC – or perhaps they are so concerned with our health and wellbeing that they are going to such great lengths to protect us from Covid and keep us all safe in this village?

You can make up your own minds! 

The Guardian view on the future of high streets: let communities decide

“From 1 August, changed rules on commercial-to-residential conversions will allow landlords and developers to swiftly turn vacant shops and businesses into houses and flats. This deregulatory move will make it far more difficult for local authorities to plan for the precarious post-Covid future of town centres, and for communities to hold them to account.”

Editorial www.theguardian.com

One of the pleasures of post-lockdown life has been the chance to go back to familiar businesses and high street shops, putting some much-needed cash into tills. Though often hit by the long-term shift to online retail – which the pandemic, of course, accelerated – such places continue to knit the social fabric together in vital ways. But despite all the local goodwill and the revival of trade, for some much-loved ports of call it may be a case of too little, too late. According to a review published this month, Britain’s high streets are threatened by a “tsunami of closures”, thanks to the debt taken on by small business owners during the past year-and-a-half.

The report concludes that “urgent support is required” if a trail of destruction is not to unfold, when loans are called in and tax breaks end. Unfortunately, the government is about to make matters worse, not better. Next week, Whitehall plans to unleash a developers’ free-for-all that threatens to irrevocably change the character and texture of town centres and high streets across the country.

From 1 August, changed rules on commercial-to-residential conversions will allow landlords and developers to swiftly turn vacant shops and businesses into houses and flats. This deregulatory move will make it far more difficult for local authorities to plan for the precarious post-Covid future of town centres, and for communities to hold them to account. In an exasperated submission to the housing, communities and local government committee, London councils warned MPs of “a disruptive free-for-all, with short-term financial considerations deciding the future use of vacant high street buildings, damaging the fabric and coherence of our town centres”. As the value of property continues to boom, particularly in the south, there are insidious implications for those outlets managing to cling on. The Association of Town and City Management told the MPs that the new rules could, in effect, “create a licence for the eviction of businesses in favour of residential”.

The government claims that commercial-to-residential conversions can allow developers to respond to changing times. It is also suggested that an influx of new locals will boost footfall for those businesses able to withstand the triple whammy of online retail, Covid debt and Whitehall deregulation. The likelier dynamic, in too many places, is terminal decline as high streets and urban hubs are “pepper-potted” with residential property, losing their identity and ceasing to attract people in viable numbers.

Imaginative plans for our high streets and town centres are undoubtedly needed. Indeed, some of that thinking is taking place. Armed with cash from the government’s Future High Streets Fund, the local council in Stockton on Tees is planning a spectacular reconfiguration of the town centre, including a riverside park, leisure centre and library. High Wycombe council, the recipient of an £11.7m grant from the same source, plans to acquire vacant shops and make them available at affordable rents to independent businesses. But handing virtual carte blanche to developers to replace commercial premises with residential property undermines strategic thinking and empowers the market at the expense of local communities. In the words of the MP Clive Betts, chair of the housing committee, it will “fatally undermine the role of local authorities in shaping their … public spaces and buildings”.

Mr Betts has called on Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, to think again. He should do so.

Science Park space set to become a car park

Does this mean that planned car parking spaces on the Science Park now exceed expected demand?

With no dedicated bus service, obvious difficulties for disabled users and potential problems over who has priority to park, this looks very much like a hastily thought through “Plan B”.

Is this what we sacrificed good agricultural land for? – Owl

Exeter’s new ‘park and change’ centre opens

Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk

The £2.24 million facility on the eastern edge of the city has 300 parking bays, enabling people to park up and travel the final part of their journey into Exeter or the Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone by bus, car sharing or switching to cycle.

A shared footpath and cyclepath connects to the growing E4 cycle route, which, when complete, will link the east of Exeter with the city centre.

The first 2.5 miles of the route towards the city is in place, keeping walkers and cyclists separate from traffic on a level route with minimal crossings. The route also extends east as a shared use path towards Cranbrook, linking to major employment sites such as SkyPark, Amazon, Lidl and Exeter Airport.

High-security cycle lockers are available to rent and a Co-Bikes electric bike hire dock will be installed later this year.

Although the site itself won’t offer a dedicated bus service, people will be able to use local bus services passing the site. These options are:

  • CONNexIONS 56 service to the city centre and St David’s Station via Heavitree Road from the bus stop on south side of Honiton Road. Services to Exeter Airport and Exmouth use the bus stop on the same side of the road as the Park and Change site
  • 4/4A/4B to the city centre via Heavitree Road from the bus stop on south side of Honiton Road, as well as to Cranbrook, Honiton and Axminster from the bus stop on the same side of the road as the Park and Change site
  • K bus service to the city centre via Pinhoe Road from the stop on Anning Drive

Electric vehicle chargepoints are also planned to be installed at the site from September as part of the County Council’s DELETTI project, which aims to expand the network of chargepoints across Devon to incentivise uptake of electric vehicles.

Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council cabinet member for climate change, environment and transport, said: “We need to reduce car journeys across the county and particularly into Exeter, and the park and change site will help relieve congestion on the Moor Lane roundabout and the A30 Honiton Road approach to junction 29 of the M5.”

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council cabinet member with responsibility for cycling, said: “We’re continuing to invest in establishing a network of high-quality walking and cycling routes to achieve our ambitious target of 50% of all Exeter journeys to work and education to be made by foot or bicycle by 2030.”

The project is funded through National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone and developer contributions.

It will open from 6:30am to 8pm Mondays to Saturdays and is closed on Sundays and bank holidays, and will be locked out of hours.

Killer road white lines botched – Four Elms

One Conservative councillor calls it a “cock up” over claims that the minutes don’t seem to correspond to recollections that Four Elms would get double white lines and a 40 mph speed limit. If so, would it be Councillor Stuart Hughes’s cock up? He is Devon County Council cabinet member for highway management and chair of East Devon Highways and Traffic Orders Committee. Will there now have to be more consultations?

But could it simply be that double white lines cost more? – Owl

Philip Churm, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

A number of councillors in East Devon have asked the committee responsible for roads to take urgent action in order to improve safety at an accident black spot near Newton Poppleford. 

Repainted – but not well. Four Elms Hill markings suggest overtaking allowed

Members of East Devon Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) were discussing Four Elms Hill, the A3052 Exeter to Sidmouth road, after it was suggested that the county council had failed to act on a decision made in July 2019 to paint double white lines along the Four Elms stretch. 

The move would have prevented vehicles from overtaking.  

Earlier this month lines were repainted, but the lining included stretches of broken white lines instead, indicating overtaking with caution is allowed.  

Chair of Newton Poppleford and Harpford Parish Council, Cllr Chris Burhop (Newton Popp. Ward) expressed his concern at the HATOC meeting.  

“The road was duly closed for four nights and the public were told it was going to be repainted with double white lines. 

“The expectation was double white lines and what do we get? We actually get a scheme that doesn’t – believe it or not – even reflect this because they’ve made short dashed lines with overtaking advisable instead of the long dashed lines that were there previously.

“So they’ve actually made the situation worse not better. And the people of Newton Poppleford are, at best, confused and at worst furious.”

An accident occurred on the stretch of road on 21 July but exact details are not available and it is unclear whether it was caused by the concerns outlined by the councillors.

Vice-chair of East Devon Council Cllr Val Ranger (Independent East Devon Alliance, Newton Poppleford and Harpford Ward) also expressed her worries about the road markings.   

She said: “So there’s great frustration on the part of residents, parish councillors, district councillors, Devon county councillors and me about the poor job done on Four Elms Hill.

“There are accidents along the entire length of the hill not just certain hotspots.”

Cllr Ranger suggested that Devon County Council may not know the extent of the dangers because only serious injuries or ‘at fault’ incidents are recorded.  However, she said local police were more likely to understand the true number of accidents.  

“Whatever happened to doing what matters? Why would you shut a major road and only do a half-baked job?” Cllr Ranger added. 

“What is required is a proper survey of all road markings from the base of the hill including the red warning lines and the slow signs which are in dire need of refreshing.  

“It needs double white lines up the entire hill because all drivers understand what they mean.”

During the 25-minute discussion, officers suggested a further report would be needed to consider the issues involved.

Cllr Christine Channon (Conservative, Exmouth & Budleigh Salterton Coastal Division) suggested more urgent action was required. “We can’t wait for any reports of this, that and the other. This was wrong,” she said. “They’ve not followed up what we recommended. And so consequently somebody needs to get down and sort it out PDQ.”

Other councillors reminded the committee of the meeting in July 2019 in which, they said, specific demands were made. 

Cllr Phillip Twiss (Conservative, Feniton & Honiton Division) said:  “I am under no confusion whatsoever that I voted to support a 40 mph speed limit on that stretch of hill. 

“I don’t have any illusion whatsoever about what I voted for and what that meeting was voting for – as far as I recall unanimously – which was 40 mph speed limit and double white lines. 

“To my mind – put simply – this is a cock up it’s a mistake and it needs to be rectified now.”

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council cabinet member for highway management and chair of East Devon HATOC, said: “The 40 mph speed limit was implemented as agreed by the HATOC committee in 2019/20, and although the new lining has been installed in accordance with the minutes of the July 2019 HATOC, unfortunately it doesn’t reflect the committee’s understanding of what had been agreed.

“The committee would prefer double white lines where both lines are solid, to remove overtaking manoeuvres from this section of road. A safety audit still has to be carried out on the new lining scheme and we will have to consult again with police before a ‘double solid’ white line system can be introduced.”

Stop Cranbrook expansion plans. Enough is enough!

Two years ago, a group of residents in Whimple set up an action group called POWR (Protect Our Whimple & Rockbeare) to help local communities to push back on proposed plans to expand Cranbrook ever closer to their village boundaries. POWR has now lunched a petition asking EDDC to finish the development they started and stop over-development of Cranbrook.

www.change.org 

Cranbrook new town is growing at an alarming rate. Proposals are currently under consultation to extend Cranbrook into four new expansion areas – Bluehayes, Treasbeare, Cobdens and The Grange. It is proposed that the four areas will accommodate over 4,000 new homes, three primary schools, two neighbourhood centres, employment land, two gypsy and traveller sites and open space and sports provision. Whilst we understand the requirement to provide housing for people, it does not need to be all in this one area. This additional development will see significant changes to around 1200 acres of land that will change the landscape in this area of East Devon beyond all recognition, at a time when we are already witnessing a very real shortage of land for food production and trees to help fight climate change globally. 

Cranbrook is already a large and growing development with a vibrant community, but residents have been badly let down by East Devon District Council leaving the roll-out of the Town Centre to the Developers who have failed to provide the thriving Town Centre with a supermarket, shops, amenities and work spaces that was promised from the outset. Now that EDDC has accepted the latest offer from East Devon New Community Partners and taken control of some of this next phase of development for Cranbrook, the Council must step up and make this a reality for the many residents living there. It is a crying shame that it has taken this long and that the ambitious plans have been scaled back compared to what they were.

A Governance Review has recently been called for that will look at boundary changes to our local parishes so that more land comes under the control of Cranbrook Town Council, eating away at our village borders. Whilst the plans for the expansion of Cranbrook are still under review, it is rather premature and presumptive to be looking at expanding the boundaries of Cranbrook further and into neighbouring parishes. 

We, the people of East Devon, have the right to make ourselves heard and the power to effect change if we come together as one voice. We demand that Mark Williams, Chief Executive of East Devon District Council and his colleagues, oppose any expansion of Cranbrook beyond the existing town boundary until it has been properly consulted on by appointed representatives of Cranbrook, Clyst Valley, Broadclyst, Whimple and Rockbeare. Any Governance Review should be shelved whilst the expansion plans are still under consultation.

Enough is enough!

Please sign and share this petition and demand that East Devon District Council listen to the many voices crying out for the mass over-development of our local area to stop!

Increase in East Devon Covid cases, no further deaths, and cases rising across Devon

These case rates relate to the seven days to July 18. Last night, BBC Spotlight indicated that rates for the following week show a mixed picture with some South West counties continuing to rise some starting to level off. The message is: there is a lot of Covid circulating.

Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporter exmouth.nub.news  27 July

Covid cases have increased in every part of Devon, with figures almost doubling in the last week in Plymouth, rising by 1126.

The case rate in the area is now 188 per cent higher than the UK average. The rise means almost one in 1,000 people in Plymouth currently have the virus.

There were also huge spikes in some of Devon’s districts, with cases going up by 125 per cent in Torridge (189 new cases) and 125 per cent in North Devon (547 new cases).

Teignbridge saw the smallest increase in rates of infection, with numbers going up by around 16 per cent (77 new cases).

Overall in Devon, including Plymouth and Torbay, 6,740 people caught the virus in the seven-day period.

Case rates rose by 1245 (60 per cent) in the Devon County Council area and by 382 (65 per cent) in Torbay.

Hospitalisations

Thirty-five patients were admitted to Derriford hospital in Plymouth the week of the latest data (to Sunday 18 July)

Seventeen patients were admitted to the RD&E, while 15 patients were admitted to Torbay Hospital. Two more are being cared for in North Devon.

Deaths

No new deaths within 28 days of a positive covid test were recorded in Devon in the past week.

The total number of people who have died within 28 days of positive covid test remains at 1,046 in Devon, including 206 in Plymouth and 156 in Torbay.

129,044 people have now died within 28 days of a positive covid test in the UK, that number rising by 306 in the last seven days.

Vaccinations

86 per cent of adults in the Devon County Council area have now had their first dose of a vaccine, while 70 per cent have had both.

85 per cent of adults have had their first jab in Torbay, while 72 per cent have had both doses.

There’s a big gap in the number of adults who have had both their first and second doses in Plymouth, with the numbers sitting at 82 per cent and 63 per cent respectively.

The UK average is currently at 88 per cent for one dose and just under 70 per cent for both doses.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week begining 12 July

Both the Telegraph and Times feature the Salcombe revolt on second homes

The story goes national under the headlines: “Millionaire hotspot Salcombe blocks second home buyers” (Telegraph) and “Salcombe pulls up drawbridge against the second-home invasion” (Times).

The Times, however, explains the intricacies of using “Section 106” agreements to ensure the concept of “principal residence” endures. (Planning officers more often chose to use planning conditions because they caused “less hassle”, but the Council wants to remove this option).

Salcombe pulls up drawbridge against the second-home invasion

Will Humphries, Southwest Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk

Some people will do anything for their own slice of the seaside idyll. Even if it means bending or breaking a few planning rules along the way.

The people of Salcombe, the Devon seaside town nicknamed Chelsea-on-Sea, have become so worried about the influx of second-home owners that they have enacted the strictest code against out-of-towners in the country.

In 2018 the neighbourhood planning steering group calculated that about 57 per cent of homes in the town were second homes. South Hams district council is hoping to curb this trend by making it a legal requirement that all newbuild homes be sold as a principal residence and stay that way for ever.

In the past, planning officers had the choice to attach a planning condition to a new development, stating it must be a principal residence, or draw up a Section 106 agreement with the developer, which makes it legally binding on the property’s title deeds.

Judy Pearce, Conservative leader of South Hams district council, said that planning officers more often chose to use planning conditions instead of Section 106 agreements because they caused “less hassle”.

She said that because planning conditions were not registered on the property deeds, unlike a Section 106, they often get “lost or overlooked” by homeowners and lawyers during house sales.

This allowed properties first bought as a principal residence to be sold on years later and added to the growing list of second homes.

“Particularly in the case of Salcombe, where people will do almost anything to get hold of a property,” Pearce said. “I am not saying people do cut corners but if you were of the mind to, it would be easy [to overlook a planning condition].”

The council has now voted to ensure that its neighbourhood plan demands all new developments, excluding replacement dwellings, must have a Section 106 agreement stating it will remain a principal residence in perpetuity.

“We had to take it to council because the planning officers wouldn’t sign it off,” Pearce said. “The officer who deals with neighbourhood plans agrees with us but the majority didn’t.”

Salcombe has long been a mecca for the boating fraternity. Wealthy out-of-towners arrive in the summer months to sail on the Kingsbridge estuary and moor up in sandy bays for lunch. The population can rise from about 2,000 during the winter to more than ten times that in summer. The closest railway station is a 40-minute drive away in Totnes and trains to London take about three hours.

The new neighbourhood plan amendment will be assessed by an independent examiner before it is officially approved as part of the planning framework for Salcombe. Nikki Turton, the town mayor, said that the blanket use of Section 106 agreements would ensure the town “doesn’t need to keep an eye on every property and report constantly on possible breaches”. She added: “We want families to come and live and work here. We are not just a holiday destination, we are a thriving town and we want to exist in the future.”

The average wage in Salcombe is below the national average but the cost of buying a home is about £750,000, with a majority selling for well over £1 million.

Blair Stewart, a local estate agent with Strutt & Parker, said that there “have been instances” of planning conditions being avoided during house sales. “It’s not rocket science that clever solicitors and lawyers will find ways and means of getting around things,” he said. He believes the new rule will cause “quite a significant issue” for people looking at new developments, which typically cost between £800,000 and £1.5 million, if they have to commit themselves to making it their principal residence.

“It is the significant upper end of the market, which tends to be new developments. There are virtually no affordable homes in Salcombe,” Stewart said.

Property values in and around Salcombe have risen by 10 to 15 per cent in the past year. Stewart said that he had seen a 30 per cent rise in buyers coming to live full-time in Salcombe in the past five years, with draws including Ofsted-rated outstanding primary and secondary schools and improved wifi coverage. “It helps that the head of BT has a house in Salcombe and sorted that out,” Stewart said.

An idea that is catching on

Salcombe is not the first seaside town to move to tighten its planning rules.

St Ives voted to ban the selling of newbuild properties as second homes in 2016, and has been followed by other Cornish tourist hotspots such as Fowey and Mevagissey.

These towns have passed neighbourhood plans stipulating planning conditions that newbuild properties must be sold as principal residences.

However, none of them has gone as far as Salcombe, which is looking to dictate that only a Section 106 agreement attached to the title deeds can be used.

Since St Ives voted for its neighbourhood plan there has been much debate about whether it will have the desired effect of making more affordable properties available to local families. Some estate agents insist that the regulation is hampering supply.

A London School of Economics study published in 2019 said that the policy had led to an increase in the price of existing homes because prospective second-home owners were competing for them with residents. Professor Christian Hilber, who led the study, said a better option would be a local annual tax on the value of a second home.

Councillors have said that it is too early to judge the merits of the policy. However, before the pandemic the average property price had risen 3 per cent since 2016. At times in the past decade prices were growing by more than 10 per cent a year.

Boris Johnson’s planning reforms could turn southern England into urban sprawl

The British government is trapped again by the picaresque politics of Boris Johnson. When the pandemic has subsided, the legacy of 2021 could yet be something more long-lasting – the permanent scarring of the landscape, courtesy of the 2019 parliament.

Simon Jenkins www.theguardian.com 

Last spring, the prime minister trumpeted the “tearing down” of English town and country planning regulations, in place since the 1940s. That was enough to have him pummelled at last month’s Chesham and Amersham byelection. The planning minister, Robert Jenrick, then protested that “tearing down” did not mean “ripping up”, whatever that means. He is now wrestling with a shambles of reform.

At the root lies Johnson’s perfectly commendable ambition to “level up” the north and south. Britain has one of the most regionally divided economies in the developed world, with parts of northern England poorer than the regions that used to make up East Germany. Johnson rightly wants to divert wealth, talent, investment and productivity in that direction, but he has no clue what this means.

Jenrick’s response is to seek to cram even more houses – and thus people – into the south-east. Backed by his army of Tory-donor property developers, he hopes to designate specific areas of countryside – mooted as “30% of UK land” – as protected, and with a casual presumption in favour of “developing” the rest. Since protection likely includes the mostly mountainous areas of Wales and Scotland, it is hard to see a vision of southern England as anything but open to a creeping, Los Angeles-style urban sprawl. This means ending 50 years of the once-prized divide between Britain’s towns and their surrounding countryside.

The ambition to promote building in the south plays on Johnson’s other arbitrary ambition, to build some 300,000 houses – their location unspecified – every year. Given that permission already exists for a million homes in land banks, this appears to be mere lobby appeasement. But the consequence will likely be a dramatic rise in housing imposed on the countryside. Analysis by the CPRE, the countryside charity, of the algorithm devised to calculate housing needs shows Johnson’s Uxbridge seat will have to find room for 10 times more houses than Rishi Sunak’s Yorkshire one. This is hardly “levelling up”, and has led Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, to condemn building “the wrong homes in the wrong places”, and the former Tory leader William Hague to label the proposed planning reforms “Johnson’s poll tax”.

The reality is that English housing policy is still in the dark ages. Jenrick should be promoting downsizing, taxes to discourage under-occupation, the renovation of old building and increasing housing density in suburbia. There is no need to build on greenfield rather than brownfield land anywhere in Britain. Ministers seem to think the only “real” house is a car-dependent executive home in a southern meadow. It is, as Jenrick says, a “dream” – but that is not a need.

The way to level up the regional divide is to make northern towns and cities more attractive places to live. This means stopping Manchester and Liverpool letting developers turn them into concrete jungles – and avoiding such humiliations as having Unesco this week strip Liverpool of its world heritage status. It means galvanising the creative potential of old Victorian city centres such as those of Bradford and Huddersfield. It means smart conservation, not mindless destruction. British town and country planning must recover both its architectural flair and its democratic virility.

Rumour has it that Jenrick’s department is now frantically trying to “de-Cheshamise” his planning bill. This could mean abandoning the simplistic zoning plan and restoring democratic control over planning permissions. It is absurd for him to claim that this will impede development. Some 90% of planning permissions in England go through. Otherwise local democracy’s only defence will be endless resorts to the courts. Already, judges are forced to become substitute town planners. Hence Johnson’s frantic steps to curb judicial review. The man is, heart and soul, an anti-democrat.

Jenrick’s other controversial proposal is to loosen restrictions on change-of-use in high streets, to hasten their switch from communal hubs into “volume” housing. That high streets need reappraisal is beyond doubt. The idea that local people deserve no control over the future of their high streets is centralist arrogance.

Jenrick has recently claimed to want houses to be “built of local materials” and erected in tree-lined streets. So do we all, where appropriate. But who is to decide? The answer is apparently a corps of Whitehall aesthetes, replacing generations of planners responsive to their residents. These decisions must be returned to localities. Like politics, all true planning is local. Many terrible things may happen to Britain in the aftermath of the current pandemic. It would be a tragedy if the guardianship of the built and rural environment becomes another casualty. We are told that Britain is not going the way of Los Angeles. Would someone kindly explain how?