‘Britain is a green and pleasant land’ intones the narrator in a voice as thick as gloss paint, ‘but for how long?’ A seductive question if ever there was one, but this is a question the much overlooked BBC Two series The Planners seeks to answer. And if episode seven of the series is anything to go by, country cottages and sleepy hamlets have nothing to fear – as the planners throw the rule book squarely at the heads of those nasty developers.
In case you’ve missed the series so far (and frankly, why wouldn’t you have missed it?) the gist of the series is easy. Each week the proposers and objectors of various different planning applications across England and Scotland are subjected to the roving eye of BBC Two’s cameras, before a decision is made amidst high-drama in council debating chambers.
First up this week is a humble country cottage that’s in the planner’s sights. Or is it? Well no, actually, turns out it’s a nasty stinking great crematorium come to interrupt a rural idyll. Actually, that’s not true – it’s a rather nicely manicured development which offers a modern take on the age-old concept of the funeral pyre. Rather than being lobbed on a burning barge and set out to sea, your relatives can instead see you dispatched in perfect comfort from something akin to the furniture department at John Lewis. The villagers, however, are not happy. ‘We don’t want a damned great chimney!’ splutters Bob Worrall in righteous anger, which is a shame as the plans made it look rather nice.
The series, however, remains interesting enough for anyone with even a gnat’s hair of interest in planning or public law.
Before we find out what’s happening at the crematorium, it’s time for a trip to North West England. It’s Cheshire District Council’s Principal Planning Enforcement Officer and all-round hunk Nial Casselden’s turn to give pensioner Peter a right good thrashing for piling earth around his house to prevent flooding. Nial isn’t without a heart though: ‘I like the idea of living a sort of Wind in the Willows type lifestyle,’ he remarks. Well who wouldn’t, Nial? Perhaps not such a tough guy after all then. Of all the cases we’ve seen so far this series though, this is perhaps the most moving despite Nial’s somewhat light-hearted manner. Peter cuts a lonely figure, sailing his dingy through the rising floodwaters to restock with provisions and the all-essential gin and tonic. This is not a case of a wealthy developer pitting his wits against that of the council, but rather a fight of a traditional old man who clings to the idea that an Englishman’s home is his castle.
Peter’s case is the first of the series to make it into court – a case that lasts just 45 minutes before being referred to arbitration. ‘Maybe this’ll be the start to the end’ murmurs a visibly worried Peter, and hopefully it will be. A 12-year battle with Cheshire District Council is probably enough for even the strongest constitution. Unfortunately, it’s part and parcel of this series that some stories are left unresolved as different stories are examined week on week.
The series, however, remains interesting enough for anyone with even a gnat’s hair of interest in planning or public law. From the very basic questions (what the bloody hell is a greenbelt?) to more sophisticated concepts such as Local Development Frameworks, the series will ease you into many of the concepts that are de rigueur in planning law. An amphetamine-fuelled romp through planning applications this is not, but a sedate and leisurely introduction to one of the more niche areas of law.
The Planners first aired in 2013 on BBC Two.