I was in the packed Grand Hall for the duration of the consideration of the controversial Tesco planning application for Hadleigh.
Emotions ran high among members of the public – laughter, gasps, objections and applause all in equal measures. People who came were largely united by a single issue –to say no to Tesco.
The planning committee voted seven to six against the development proposal, articulating explicit legal grounds on which to reject it. These grounds did not need to include any reference to the wishes of local people.
Having reflected on this, I am convinced that current rhetoric about localism is hollow. Planning reforms, introduced by the Government, have strengthened the presumption in favour of developers, rather than give real power to communities.
The Government claims its Localism Act aims to reform the planning process and place “significantly more influence in the hands of local people over issues that make a big difference to their lives”.
During Wednesday’s meeting, we were told several times that the land has been earmarked for use as a supermarket, and the decision by Babergh’s planning committee to throw out Tesco’s bid does not change that. A remote minister in London has the final say – top down Government that flies in the face of localism.
So what now for our high street? Now is the time for Babergh District Council to be bold and to think again, to listen to communities, businesses, heritage and environmental experts and its own economic development team, to work with it to protect the future of the high street as both a visitor attraction and a retail area.
The time has come to allocate the site within the local development plan for alternative uses and, in doing so, restore some faith in local Government as real champions of localism.