My Week 24/09/2015
On Friday I joined West Sussex MPs in one of our update meetings with the County Council's leadership. We discussed many local issues, including the potential for the devolution of government powers - for instance transport - under its localism drive.
I've long argued for more local control. But I'm afraid we saw exactly the opposite this week when the Planning Inspectorate overruled Horsham District Council for a second time to allow another solar farm at Ashurst.
I attempted to prevent this decision, asking the Communities and Local Government Secretary to 'call in' the appeal to make the decision himself. He was not able do this, but did call in a third application near Steyning.
I'm all in favour of green energy, but not when ugly arrays spoil attractive landscape. I've enthusiastically supported the community solar project at Hassocks School, and why aren't more new houses built with solar panels?
As the cost of these panels has come down sharply we do need to ensure that the subsidies are affordable for the public purse and also don't distort behaviour, as I suspect they have done by incentivising farmers to put up ugly arrays. The Government has now proposed to reduce the subsidies.
It's infuriating that the Planning Inspectorate has once again overruled a perfectly sensible local decision. I appreciate that the Inspectorate does not get it all wrong: its rejection of the appalling proposed Mayfield new town between Henfield and Sayers Common was especially welcome.
But I object to a system where local democratic decisions are constantly being second guessed by unelected government appointees. Many developers would like to go even further and see local councils effectively cut out of decisions altogether.
The Government has set up a panel to consider how to streamline the local planning process. Worryingly, it is chaired by an adviser to Mayfield, although other members are localists. The panel could propose useful changes. Local planning, for instance neighbourhood plans, could be speeded up if top-down interference was reduced.
But offering local decision-making with one hand and taking it away with the other isn't localism at all - it's back to the bad old days of Whitehall knows best.