Grant Shapps undermines trust in planning

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps repeatedly overruling of independent planning inspectors and advisors is undermining trust in the planning system and democracy. This could have a corrosive effect, deterring people from participating in the planning system, if their opinion and evidence is going to be ignored. 

In the last year Grant Shapps has overruled three recommendations from the Planning Inspectorate on new roads, most famously when he approved a tunnel and dual carriageway through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, also against the advice of UNESCO. The planning inspectors on the Examination Panel sat for six months listening to all the evidence from Highways England, local people, archaeologists, businesses, and heritage, environmental and community groups. 

Over 1,300 documents were submitted, totalling 10,000s of pages of evidence. The inspector’s final report totalled 560 pages and, after examining all the evidence, they recommended that the scheme should be rejected because it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm to the World Heritage Site”. Yet Grant Shapps casually rejected this carefully arrived at conclusion, granting approval and trampling over the planning inspectors and the hundreds of people and groups who had participated in the Examination. Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site is challenging this decision in the High Court on 23-25 June this year. 

From 2013 until 2020 only one transport scheme had been approved against the advice of the planning inspectorate, yet Grant Shapps has overruled the planning inspectors four times in the last year alone: The A303 at Stonehenge, the A303 Sparkford to Ilchester in Somerset, the A63 Castle Street Improvement in Hull, and at Manston Airport, Kent. In this last development, local campaigners were forced to take Grant Shapps to the High Court when he overruled the inspectors’ recommended rejection of the Manston Airport expansion on climate change grounds. They won, and Grant Shapps was forced to back down. 

This week Grant Shapps is about to decide whether to approve the controversial M25 Junction 10 scheme in Surrey which would destroy veteran trees at the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley. He has postponed publishing the inspectors’ report and making a decision, which has previously been a sign that he is about to override them. 

We have had direct experience of Shapps overruling experts. Our legal challenge to his refusal to review the outdated NPS roads policy revealed that he had ignored his advisors, making the Guardian front page!  

If Grant Shapps is serious about tackling climate change and protecting the environment then he needs to start respecting the democratic process and listening to his expert advisors. If he continues riding roughshod over the planning system, ignoring the evidence to suit his purpose, he will bring the process into disrepute if he hasn’t done so already. Why bother holding Examinations if the conclusions will be overturned? Why submit evidence if your voice will be ignored? People all over the country will be watching his next moves closely.

Edit: Grant Shapps has delayed for the third time the decision on the DCO planning application for the M25 Junction 10 / A3 Wisley scheme until 12 November


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