The democracy of the Vale of Glamorgan planning process is absent and favours wealthy developers over citizens.
My house is situated between a narrow country road leading into an old village and farmer's fields. In April this year, we were sent a letter by the Vale of Glamorgan planning department that a housing development of 115 houses was planned and we have just a few weeks to register our objections.
Now, it's understandable we'd object; we live next to the proposed site. But, there are some issues that have some serious cause for concern:
A public right of way crosses the site and over an unmanned railway crossing of a line soon to be electrified.
A pond is proposed to capture the water from the often-waterlogged field. The town has a history of flooding and this field acts like a large sponge safeguarding this part of the town.
The roads leading to and from the development are designed for sheep and horse carts. Fifty percent of them are unpaved, single-carriage and pose a risk to pedestrians.
You can read more about this application, if you like, on our website and the planning department website. But, this journal post is not just about documenting the history and problems of the site (that could last a while). This is a journal post about the sickeningly undemocratic process that the Vale of Glamorgan council has undertaken, and I'm sure, it is somewhat similar throughout the country.
As a citizen of the England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have different planning laws) I am not entitled to appeal against a planning application directly. However, a developer can appeal.
The Vale of Glamorgan undertook no independent review of reports commissioned and presented, with questionable findings, might I add, by the developer.
The Vale of Glamorgan are recommending the development despite Network Rail objecting on the grounds of safety with the un-manned right of way over the railway line.
The vale of Glamorgan undertook no independent risk assessment of either the open pond or unguarded railway crossing. Both of which are a grave concern for me having two small children.
The Vale of Glamorgan undertook no independent review of the flood risk assessments despite the developer's reports showing multiple failed percolation tests.
I could go on about the deviations from what I'd view as an independent and democratic process. There have been many, but these pose the greatest dangers in my view.
As a father of two small children, I worry about them. My children are beautifully curious. Wonderfully full of energy. But, despite my best efforts, woefully oblivious to the danger they put themselves in. Just like every other child out there. The Vale of Glamorgan planners, and planning committee – who we elect into those positions, let's not forget that – has a social responsibility for the well-being of the citizens of this country. Instead, throughout this process, I saw the opposite.
I saw an over-worked, under-resourced council making bad decisions.
I saw an undemocratic process that favoured negotiation with the developers over hearing the concerns of local residents.
I saw a council under pressure to meet housing quoters by paving over the green fields rather than the more difficult option of brown field sites.
And I've had enough of it.
Many people locally have been saying that the building of this development will result in more flooding in the village. It will result in more congestion on roads designed for horse carts and sheep. With the dangers of the railway line and open pond, it may result in the injury or death of one of the new residents. Is that when the planners would sit up and listen? Maybe verify the developers reports with independent review?
The cynic in me says 'probably not'. The apathetic in me says 'who cares? We all know politics is corrupt'. But, this is the second time in a year that I've voiced my concerns about the local government's ability to make good decisions.
I know we need more, and affordable, houses in this country. But new developments need proper, independent scrutiny from experts. And this proposal has not had that.
The proposed development goes before the planning committee on Thursday 19th December. It is being recommended by the overworked planning officer – despite the points above. A copy of this journal post is being forwarded to the local councillors; the members of the Vale of Glamorgan planning committee; the Vale of Glamorgan planning department; my local Welsh Assembly Member and Member of Parliament, in addition to the BBC and local newspapers.
Just as local government has a duty to behave in a democratic way, I have a duty to act as a citizen of the UK and to stand up and say when something is not right.