It will come as a major relief to our reader to learn that, against all the odds, Grotton's planners are approaching the New Year with a new-found optimism.
This is not simply due to the dancing in the streets following the passing of the Localism Bill into law, although that obviously helped. More significant by far, councillors and officers alike have now all but mastered the theoretical basis, the central purpose and the myriad possible misinterpretations of the draft National Planning Policy Framework.
A recent meeting of the Association of Grotton Authorities (AGA) considered a briefing note that, at a stroke, resolved any lingering misconceptions about the government's attitude to planning. Headed "Draft Mythbuster / For Leaking Purposes Only", this had been prepared for Sir Roderick Pyles-Hamster, member for Grotton South and Bletherley, by an un-named intern at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and he had left a copy of it in the gents at Grotton Parkway, in the usual way. (N.B. This is not the same as a document with a similar name published by the department itself, which would appear to be a seasonal attempt at satire.)
In the interests of openness, we reproduce this important note in full - although without some of the accompanying handwritten comments (such as "if your constituents are finding all this planning stuff a bit alarming, just remind them what's happening to the NHS").
Grotton Revisited ... Planning in Crisis? is published by Routledge in association with the Royal Town Planning Institute.
Draft Planning Mythbuster (version 7B)
Myth: Change isn't needed. Planning isn't the problem.
Fact: It's generally recognised by everyone who matters that planning is responsible for everything that's wrong with society today.
Myth: Won't the changes lead to us drowning in a sea of concrete?
Fact: No! That's a scurrilous rumour being put about by the Campaign to Keep Grotton Just As It Was Before the War, who've got nothing better to do than read the Daily Telegraph, which, fair enough, is quite good for the sports section, and moan about their pensions. And don't get me on to the National Trust, which is clearly a communist-led fifth column plotting to overthrow the government.
Myth: Isn't it going to be a developers' charter?
Fact: Close!! It's going to be a lawyers' charter.
Myth: Let's face it, the government hasn't got a clue what it means by "a presumption in favour of sustainable development", has it?
Fact: This really isn't rocket science.
To be quite clear, "sustainable" development is development that isn't unsustainable. That's why there's a presumption in favour of it. Obviously.
Hang on - this sounds interesting! Doesn't that therefore mean that there's a presumption against development that isn't sustainable?
Fact: Yes! But only where the secretary of state considers it expedient.
Myth: This isn't localism: you're taking control away from local communities. For example, it will be easier to get permission for open-cast coal mining in Grimethwaite.
Fact: Possibly. But it's obviously more crucial to protect things that matter, like the green belt round Dunromin, rather than worry about those that don't, like Grimethwaite. Anyway, even if this did happen, our environmental policies will ensure that Grimethwaite will look exactly as it does today - it will just be the other way up.
Myth: The document says that planners have to understand the realistic market for housing up to 2035 (plus 60 per cent), set out a clear economic strategy that proactively encourages sustainable economic growth, have meetings every hour with anyone who wants them, approve all planning applications just before they're submitted, etc etc. They won't be able to cope.
Fact: Look, no-one said it would be easy. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. You could always go into teaching.
Myth: The government isn't really interested in proper planning at all.
Fact: Dear, oh dear - wrong again! We don't want to get too technical here, but our approach is firmly "evidence-based". This means that we really do want planners to be aware of the social, environmental and economic impact of development before ignoring the first two bits. Did you know, for example, that O2 has told us that refusing permission for mobile phone masts quite possibly leads to increased obesity in teenagers? That's why we've appointed consultants to find out more.
Myth: The abolition of regional strategies has led to the removal of hundreds of thousands of homes from local plans. I thought we needed more houses?
Fact: Really? Oh, I see. I think it'll be alright though, because there's something in there about a "duty to cooperate", or perhaps that's in the Localism Act, not that anyone here's quite sure what it means. I'll have to come back to you on this one, if that's OK.
Myth: There's nothing of any use in here about climate change.
Fact: Get real! Haven't you people noticed we're in a crisis? The only way out of it is to let business do what they're best at - doing business. In the end, it's only the free market that will get us out of this mess. After all, who got us into it?