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Wild fires, parish projects and planning

Our weekly Friday Politics column is written by Green Party councillor Pallavi Devulapalli, who is part of the Independent Partnership and represents Airfield Ward...

It's been a strange time in terms of the weather. We had a very wet July and now a glimmer of sunshine in mid-August even as we head towards the end of the summer holidays. However, I am grateful that we don’t have the problems that parts of Greece, Portugal, Southern France, Spain or Hawaii have had with rampant wildfires. It is sad to see that even in the face of these calamities there are people who question whether our fossil fuel consumption is contributing to climate change.

The fact is the entire climate system and the earth’s delicately balanced ecosystem is so complex that we are only beginning to understand it, if at all. There are countless species of life in the soil, the oceans and the forests which we have not even begun to discover and yet we seem to be willing to destroy them all for the sake of making a few rich corporations and individuals even richer.

What we need is a leadership that is prepared to make decisions to save life in all its beautiful diversity on this planet. Thankfully West Norfolk Council in this current administration is very intent on doing what it can to protect and improve our wild spaces, parks and amenities but also in making it a place for people to live in and enjoy.

In other news one of the joyful jobs that I had at the end of July was to give out Coronation commemoration coins to the primary school children within my ward. To see the bright faces of the children when they received the coins and answer their very interesting questions about my work at the council was very rewarding. It’s always good to explain to children but also to adults, what the council does and how they can make the most of their representatives on the council.

I try and attend parish council meetings when time permits.

Parish council meetings vary greatly in the way they are run and in the amount of public participation in them. It’s fascinating to have to be part of our basic unit of democracy.

It gave me great pleasure to support applications for community infrastructure levy (CIL) funding for various parishes within my ward, including outdoor play parks, toilets for disabled people, and a skate park. Decisions will be made at the community infrastructure levy panel in due course, but I’m hopeful that all the applications in my ward will be successful.

At a time when people have so little in terms of access to amenities and public transport facilities, it’s good to see parishes take active steps to improve infrastructure so that children, teenagers and older people still have access to entertainment and community well-being.

One of the things that the borough council is responsible for is planning. Planning is hugely important and affects every one of us who lives here. Whether it’s the construction of a wall, an extra house or a huge poultry farm, planning impacts all of our lives in small and big ways, so it’s important to get it right.

The council gives extensive training to councillors who are on the planning committee. This is important because we have to be well-versed in the national planning policy framework and planning laws, and at the same time we have to look out for the interests of local people. Applications need to be considered objectively on their own merits and any decision must be justifiable in light of the current laws. The national policy planning framework is currently skewed quite heavily in favour of development which is a pity in my view. There is great pressure on councils to build a certain number of houses every year and there are financial penalties attached to not achieving those targets.

Having said that there are safeguards within the NPPF for the environment, for the wishes of local people and to protect greenbelt land. The planning committee takes its duties very seriously and we are keen to ensure that residents’ voices are heard in all planning decisions.

There’s no point in building hundreds of houses without the accompanying travel links, schools, shops, doctors and dentists. However, it can sometimes be a chicken- and egg- situation where the infrastructure funding comes only after permission has been granted for house-building.

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