|Si monumentum requiris...
20 Nov 2005
Planning is in the news again. At one end of the constituency, proposals to develop land at Manydown before 2011 are given the thumbs down by the Inspectors; at the other end, Picket Twenty looks like remaining semi-detached from Andover. There will be some sighs of relief by those who opposed these developments, but many will hold their breath until the local councils have responded and the process is complete. Where will Prescott the Predator strike next?
The Headington Shark
I have long argued for “bottom up” not “top down” when it comes to planning. A community is more likely to feel ownership of, rather than hostility towards, development proposals if they are freely agreed to by their elected representatives. The proposals might also be more targeted to meeting local needs if the pressure came from local people, rather than from the ODPM in Westminster.
We need to strike a sensible balance between the right of a landowner to do what he or she wants with their own property; and the NIMBY’s who oppose any development anywhere. I don’t think we have the right balance at the moment.
I confess to having left my mark on the landscape. Some time ago, as Planning Minister, an appeal from a shark crossed my desk. This shark was not a property developer, but a life size replica of Carcharodon Carcharias.
To be precise, the owner of a plastic Great White Shark had inserted it, incisors first, through his roof. He had inflicted this indignity on the beast without taking the precaution of applying for planning permission from Oxford City Council. (Inserting a shark into your home constitutes “development” under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990)
When this oversight was brought to their attention, the civic leaders of that great City served an enforcement notice on the shark’s owner, requiring him to extricate it and restore the integrity of the suburban skyline. The owner appealed and an Inspector was appointed to adjudicate as to whether half a shark should continue to reside in the attic – or, more accurately, whether the other half should continue to live outside it.)
The Inspector’s findings landed on my desk, with a note from my officials. The appeal should be disallowed was the clear recommendation. Otherwise, the country’s skyline would be dominated by millions of waving dorsal fins and tails as this new ruling was exploited. The very integrity of the planning system would be challenged.
I demurred. While I didn’t want to be surrounded by inverted plastic fish at rooftop level, I did want to live in a country where some eccentric can put half a shark in his attic without being steamrollered by an insensitive bureaucracy.
So the appeal was allowed; to this day, the shark remains accommodated in the upper storey of a terraced house in Headington. While I would not put myself in the same class as Sir Christopher Wren, I hope someone may say of me one day “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.”