stealth developers stealth campaigners
Issue 1 of the Forest Hill Society newsletter has come through the door and proves that through a systematic and rigorous response to planning applications we can build strong community dialogues around defending the quality of the built environment. The article by the embryonic society showed how using existing expertise from the neighbouring Sydenham society raised clear, appropriate and focused objections to the 'Finches site' plans. The article debunks the jargon and sheds light on what significant efforts are required by local people to respond in a timely manner.
In recent years developers have been exploiting a cultural loophole which means that because the planning process is so complicated they can speculate on land and buildings whilst stealthily planning to 'dawn raid' a sleepy public with planning applications using crack teams of planning sycophants. These 'consultants' use the same ram raiding tactics of predatory financiers (who break up portfolios of assets) to rush through a legally valid programme which 'ticks boxes' but is lacking in vision and ethical initiative. Because the window of opportunity to submit 'valid' objections in such a short time frame many applications are insufficiently opposed. In many ways the situation is analogous to a dispute between a multimillion pound company with full time lawyers and a 'man on the street'. After losing again and again, the man on the street begins to give in feeling outnumbered. We must reverse this travesty in planning and set the expectation of these developers to meet fierce resistance to any second rate designs. Instead of a cynically drawn up plan which perfectly complies to laws about what planning committees must accept, (and by corollary what people cannot legally object to) we must reshape this process and in so doing put outstanding design and environmental responsibility into the heart of an enforceable screening process. As we cannot rely solely on governmental and council procedures to act with such initiative we need as a community to turn the tide in the way local people respond to the planning process.
All across London other civic amenity and campaigner groups are building expert case material about ongoing campaigns on which cultural and legal submissions were needed to persuade the developers and the local planners to agree meeting higher quality outcomes. Many of these campaigns were pre emptive and involved raising awareness of local community assets before they came under threat. The Qwaggy Waterways Action Group for instance continuously monitor threats and opportunities to the highly scarce resource of a natural waterway weaving through dense conurbations towards Deptford Creek. Their acute success in re naturalising the water channel through Chinbrook meadow (behind Grove Park Station) will undoubtedly bring much needed gravitas to planning objections/suggestions around the path of the waterway through the proposed 'Lewisham Gateway' - a potentially embarrassing project to turn Lewisham into a small version of Croydon.