Examples of 'dubious' town planning - do you know of any similar cases?

Over ten years ago I spent a lot of time travelling around in Cornwall. I stayed at many 'bed and breakfast' establishments where the owners were happy to chat about whatever interested them. Knowing I was involved in the building industry, conversation sometimes moved onto planning and local councils.

I was amazed at the number of stories about dubious practices within councils. Having since been a local councillor myself, I have a better feel for the whole subject. Typically, a family would apply for permission to extend their home. It would be refused on all manner of nebulous grounds, 'over-development of the site', and 'out of keeping with the locality', are two favourites.

The hapless family, requiring more space for their children, would be forced to put the house on the market. It would be snapped up by a man who just happened to be a local builder or developer with friends in the right places. Almost before the ink was dry on the sale transfer, a planning application would be submitted and swiftly approved to extend the property even more than had been intended previously.

The newly enlarged house could then be sold for a handsome profit. Sometimes the story had a different angle. Someone had applied several times to build another house in the grounds of their home (so called backland development). The application would be refused. Upon putting the house on the market, perhaps to move to somewhere with a smaller garden, a local builder or developer would again just happen to buy it. You can guess the rest.

Apparently you need a special type of handshake to conclude this type of deal. I heard similar stories on too many occasions and in different parts of Cornwall to dismiss them as mere sour grapes or local gossip. Some time later, North Cornwall District Council were severely criticised by the Department of the Environment for how they had operated their planning system - but many of the cases I had heard of were in other parts of the south west. More recently, it was reported that a Borough Council in the south west of England was probably to be stripped of its planning powers.

Is this sort of thing commonplace throughout England or is the south west peculiarly afflicted? If you know of any well documented cases, please let me know (small emails and no attachments please).

There have been some instances of 'dubious' planning decisions in and around Sidmouth. One of the best publicised involved both Devon County Council and East Devon District Council. Listen to the Planning and Conservation Sub-committee of the Sid Vale Association in their Annual Report for 2001.

"The (Sidford) bypass will no longer be constructed and, after many acrimonious meetings and protests by the public, aggravated by some extra-ordinary feats of bureaucratic maladministration, the land will be acquired by a volume house builder..."

The point is not whether you agreed with the bypass scheme or not (local views were broadly 50:50) but the clandestine way that everything was handled. This included allegations that letters to the local newspaper signed by councillors had been drafted for them by Council Officials. Maybe this is not unusual, but surely the job description of councillors should include being able to think for themselves? It is hoped to add more details later.

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