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Why Does Planning Permission Lead To Such Passionate Opinions?

In recent weeks, we've seen some extremely passionate activist groups taking on the courts in an attempt to influence planning permission decisions.

Lydd and Manston airport have both been in the news, as one is expanded despite environmental objections and the other is closed, possibly in order to carry out a change of use to residential property.

Both have been hugely controversial, and rhetoric on both sides has been incredibly heated. Allegations of corruption and creative accounting have flown, while one side of the argument looks very much as though they have used fake accounts to make their position appear more popular than it is.

Lakenham Cricket Pavilion To Close

Now, with the closing of Lakenham Cricket Pavilion, Stephen Fry has stepped in to label the situation 'sacrilege'.

Why that choice of words?

It's a very specific choice, not necessarily the natural choice of words for a self-professed atheist such as Mr. Fry.

Sacrilege implies a religious aspect to the building being altered, and although there is something very church-like about empty echoing buildings it seems to be more likely that there's something about architecture and buildings in general which inspire a sense of the religious.

Buildings form a huge, seemingly immovable part of our lives that will last for years. A change to a building is a big shock, and a big change, the natural response to this being caution.

Social Centres

When they are destroyed or altered, a part of the community is also destroyed or altered. In the case of Lakenham Sports & Leisure Centre, there are two kinds of community being damaged. Of course, the social aspect of the sports teams is no longer available for locals, but in addition a particular idea of England's history and the community which that sense of belonging creates is gone for people like Stephen Fry. A building may also take a lot of jobs with it when it goes, as was the case with Manston Airport.

This sense of community is often important to religious groups, and helps explain why the feeling of hurt Mr. Fry experienced seemed in some way to be spiritual.

Real Impact

All this discussion of words and feelings ignores something rather obvious, which is that planning law often has substantial impacts on the area.

There is a very good reason that each area has a substantially different local development framework, and that local authorities think so hard and argue so long about planning permission.

Manston and Lydd will both have immediate, direct impacts on the economies and day-to-day lives of the people of their nearby towns. Lakenham Sports & Leisure Centre's repurposing, meanwhile, marks the permanent disappearance of a particular way of life in that area.

Ideally, these planning decisions are carefully considered, taking lots of geographical, political and economic information into account before anything can be done.


To people on the outside, some of these issues can feel small or far away. It doesn't help that a lot of planning law focuses on very small aspects of very specific legal guidance and conflicts between special interest groups.

This is really frustrating to people who live close to proposed changes, as planning permission being granted or denied could alter their lives substantially and forever.

In order to get their point across, and emphasise how serious the situation is, activists targeting planning permission have to be really loud and passionate just to get people to sit up and listen.

What Buildings Do You Care About?

Are there any local buildings close to you that you'd be devastated to say goodbye to? Would you go so far as to call their destruction sacrilege?

Let us know on Twitter @planning_lawyer!