Is Babergh Council the 'neighbour from hell' in planning?

Tesco, Copdock

Tesco at Copdock is not a council service. Babergh does not subsidise shoppers' grocery bills. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Planning is one of the most important roles in local government - deciding what can or cannot be built and where. On the whole it is a pretty thankless task for councillors and officials.

If they take a long time looking at the pros and cons of every development and getting as many views as possible they are accused of stifling much-needed development.

If they make it too easy for developers, they are seen as a "soft-touch" and you end up with piecemeal developments that can blight an area for generations.

Most planning is the responsibility of district councils, but the county has the final say on mineral extraction or landfill - so their planners will decide on whether to extend the life of the Mason's landfill site at Blakenham which risks putting an end to the plans for a new holiday village, with 2,000 jobs, next door.

That will be a tough decision, especially as the Valley Ridge scheme seems to have the public support that Snoasis never really got - and the county council has been telling us for years that success of the incinerator nearby meant they didn't have to send any waste to landfill. Whatever the decision on this, many people will be unhappy!

Most planning decisions, however, are made at district or borough level - and the standard of scrutiny and general considerations can vary considerably from council to council.

Ipswich planners do have a reputation for thoroughness, which can sometimes be dismissed  by the administration's political opponents as obstructive - the decision-making for the northern fringe of the town, or the Ipswich Garden Suburb, seems to have taken most of my career which started in the 1980s!

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But work is now starting on this huge development and there is a masterplan that should ensure that when it is built there is a real community feeling there with schools, shops and other facilities that local residents will be able to use. 

In that respect it will be similar to Ravenswood on the other side of the town which has become a very popular community for its residents.

However, there doesn't appear to be anywhere near that level of care among planners at Babergh when major developments are considered - especially those in the Ipswich area.

Here the attitude seems to be "we don't need to worry about community facilities, the residents can get them just down the road in Ipswich!" 

Wolsey Grange is a development of getting on for 1,500 homes in the Babergh district on the southern edge of Ipswich. There has been space allocated for a new primary school - but there are no other community facilities like shops or doctors' surgeries and the expectation seems to be that the "green space" most residents will use will be Chantry Park in Ipswich, which is owned and managed by the borough council.

That makes Babergh a parasitic council - it is giving planning permission to homes on the understanding that many of the services they use, the park and the leisure facilities in Ipswich, will be paid for or subsidised by the Ipswich council taxpayers.

Meanwhile, when elections come around politicians will be able to crow about how low their council tax bills are. In fact, they'll be acting a bit like the neighbour from hell who waits until you've ordered a skip to clear your garden and plonks his rubbish in it as well without having to pay!

Babergh issued a statement last week defending this lack of planning, saying that while their residents could use Ipswich services, Ipswich residents could use their services like the Copdock retail park.

As someone who has covered local politics in Suffolk for nearly 40 years, I was really rather offended that someone thought I was naive enough to fall for that rubbish.

Copdock retail park is not a council service! It is a commercial operation that was built in Babergh district in the 1980s despite severe misgivings from Ipswich council at the time because members were worried about its impact on the town centre.

Babergh don't subsidise shoppers' purchases from Tesco or Currys as Ipswich subsidises Babergh residents' swims at Crown Pools or pays to keep Chantry Park maintained!

Back in the 1980s, the then leader of Ipswich council told me: "Babergh were only worried about one thing when Tesco came along - how much they could earn in business rates!"

From what I've gathered, there are several on the borough today who feel things haven't changed very much over the last 35 years!