Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Week's Big Story

Forget the posturing over the Assembly Budget - where Plaid Cymru bottled out at the thought of power. Forget Gen. Sir Mike Jackson's devastating critique of the Labour Government's support for the Army. Forget the Chancellor's latest and massive tax grab in the guise of 'green' policy. The big story of the week was Kate Barker's proposals on how to change the planning system. The Report applies only to England - but will have just as much an impact, albeit indirect, on Wales.

Kate Barker's Report would transform the way we live in Britrain. As always with these 'major change' reports, she has got some things right and some things wrong. She is right to propose removing a whole raft of development from the control of the planning system. Where the neighbours are happy, homeowners would be able to build extentions, conservatories, etc. without any reference to the planning authorities. Very sensible rolling back of the leviathon state.

Where she is wildly wrong is to propose building all over the Green Belt in the South-East of England. This is the last thing we need. The right response is to have much more permissive planning regimes in the other parts of Britain - to spread prosperity. And how can any political party make claim to localism (which is the fashion at the moment) without giving Local Planning Authorities more freedom to decide policy in their own areas. We know that concentrating more development - and investment - and jobs - and everything else in the South East will increase division, injustice and resentment in the North and Cornwall etc.

And the same applies in Wales. Which is one of the two main reasons why I am so doubtful about the idea of a Severn Barrage. For years we have had too much of focus on Cardiff - in my view at the expense of the rest of Wales. The concentration of resources on the South East corner if a barrage were to go ahead would make the position a whole lot worse. I cannot say that the need to develop renewable energy could not persuade me to change my mind on this - but my personal view, at present is that I would back a new nuclear power station before a Severn Barrage.

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