In 1973, Suffolk writer the late Allan Jobson wrote of Bury St Edmunds in his book, Portrait of Suffolk: “The town has had a long struggle to retain its individuality and its own particular character. There has been a ceaseless warfare between those who care and those who don’t, the latter more concerned with big business.”
These words come to mind as we approach ‘the vision for how the area will develop’ being unveiled by St Edmundsbury Borough Council (Bury Free Press, March 2).
However, I was struck by the fact that even at this early stage, John Griffiths leader of the council, is quoted as declaring ‘growth is inevitable’ – just as public consulation begins.
Has Cllr Griffiths forgotten that it is locally elected planning authorities which determine whether any development takes place, not private companies or central government? This is a point which Secretary of State Eric Pickles is currently at pains to emphasise with his localism agenda.
More worryingly, such a bald statement might be taken as indicating that Cllr Griffiths or members of his staff have already accepted development proposals and thus made up their minds ahead of anything the public says. If so, this consultation risks being perceived as a cynical sham or worse.
Or is he prepared to say, ‘But equally, St Edmundsbury Borough Council might just choose to reject development on this scale, having engaged in genuine local consultation and considered all relevant facts’?
This would be a more accurate statement of the legal position.
Still, Cllr Griffiths has until April 30 to clarify his views. Meanwhile, the council should realise that unless there is a fully open and bona fide consultation, any plans for development on this scale risks being challenged on judicial review and quashed in the High Court, as happened just last week with Norwich City Council’s scheme for building 42,000 new homes in its area.
Bury St Edmunds.