Last month, I attended a Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting which agreed to put out to consultation a proposed Local Plan. The document before us was 240 pages. But that was just a taster.

For instance an appendix contained:

 “A summary of the non-technical summary of the proposed submission Local Plan Sustainability Appraisal.”

We were assured:

“The full SA is published separately as a supporting background document.”

Alarms! I could not find it among the background documents – or on the Council website. Despite this calm prevailed. The mood of my colleagues was apparently to make do with the summary. Our thinking reflected that of Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

“That will do extremely well. You have delighted us long enough.”

Instead, we cracked on with debating membership of the European Union. This was rather appropriate since apparently the Sustainability Appraisal is required under European Directive 2001/42/EC.

Assuming it does exist, I wonder if anybody will ever read the full version of the Hammersmith and Fulham Council Local Plan Sustainability Appraisal. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A couple of days earlier such plans were being discussed by MPs on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

John Rhodes of the Local Plans Expert Group said a group of planning inspectors told him:

“If we are appointed to examine a local plan, a truck arrives at our house with more paper than we can store so we hire storage or it fills our garage.  While we could not possibly tell you this, there are about six documents that we look for.  Of course we read everything, but there are six documents that we look for and those are the documents that we know that we need.”

Rhodes added that of his main proposals to streamline the process:

“One concerns the sustainability appraisal: suggesting that you are going to cut back on the sustainability appraisal always sounds as if you do not believe in sustainable development.  Actually, we would say that the reverse of that is true.  There is nothing really sustainable about producing mountains of paper that do not take you anywhere, and we could find very few people who would stand up for the current sustainability appraisal process.  We have quoted in our more detailed discussion paper some quite violent comments about the sustainability appraisal and how it was a massive tick-box iterative process that was self-serving and that you could make say whatever you wanted it to say.  Inspectors say, “It does not really help us make any decisions.  How could you cut that back?”  We have really tried to grasp that quite dramatically.”

One could easily imagine during the Coalition Government, the Lib Dems resisting any changes. There is also the problem mentioned early of the requirements from the EU. But one of these impediment has gone and the other is going. Let us hope that the Government will be able to get on with implementing what Rhodes has proposed.