I have sometimes bemoaned the way planning inspectors appear to ride roughshod over local democracy when it comes to imposing giant wind turbines on cherished landscapes. But there is another side to the planning story — one where the planning inspector represents the only antidote to what amounts to little more than mob rule by stupid, selfish or downright malicious objectors who are indulged for nakedly political reasons.
Recently I visited the site of a proposed new shooting ground. Having been shown around, I could not think of a more suitable location or better set-up. It can accommodate most shotgun disciplines within a very pleasant layout, with full access and facilities for disabled shooters. It would also accommodate archery and air rifle users. The site encompasses a host of newly- created wildlife habitats, including ponds, feeding stations, nest boxes and recently planted native woodland.
The site is far from residential properties. Noise should not be an issue as the site is bounded by a busy railway line on one side and there is a motorway nearby. There is a landfill site nearby with huge machinery engaged in restoration work. The shooting ground has been operating for more than a year under the 28-day rule without the council receiving a single complaint about noise.
Last year, the operators of the shooting ground applied for planning permission to operate on more than 28 days per year. They are proposing to shoot just three days a week, from new acoustic shelters, and only between 10am and 3pm. Who could possibly object to that?
Well, zillions of people, apparently, most of whom live miles away from the site. And the best hook they have found to hang their opposition on is the fact that there is a rather unremarkable marshland SSSI hundreds of metres away from the shooting ground. Whipped up by a Labour councillor, copycat objections have been spawned from the membership database of a local conservation forum. The activists are peddling the claim that the noise of shooting (heard above the motorway/railway/landfill traffic, presumably) will deter raptors from visiting the SSSI. This scaremongering, which has been rebutted by top-calibre noise and environmental consultants, has sparked headlines along the lines of “Gun club threat to wildlife”. One of the most robust opponents of the planning application is the council’s own ecologist, who works in the planning department. She wrote a report that the applicants’ lawyers described as misleading and selective.
The conservation forum’s chairman is the local councillor who is the most vocal critic of the shooting ground. He is also on the planning committee that will be considering the application. And, worst of all, the council’s in-house ecologist happens to be the secretary of the forum.
Now, presumably, the councillor will have to absent himself from the vote, when it comes. But how was the council ecologist allowed to write a supposedly impartial report about the planning application without anybody spotting what appears to be a titantic conflict of interest?
But then, the council is already playing dirty. When the initial noise report didn’t show what it wanted, it demanded another. Even while that was being specifi ed, it tried to rush a vote through before the new results could be obtained. The applicants’ solicitors saw through that little ruse. Now the council is trying to slap unworkable conditions on the development. The only hope is that the application will wash up in front of the planning inspectorate, which makes its decisions based on hard facts. In the meantime, the applicants are being made to jump every hurdle the council can erect, presumably in the hope that they will run out of money or patience. Truly, some local authorities give democracy a bad name.
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