There was an audible groan of disbelief from half of the council chamber in Tewkesbury when planning officers told members on Monday night that the decision taken in March to remove green belt land at Up Hatherley and Twigworth from the joint core strategy was not based on any “comprehensive assessment”.
It was a political choice.
At first I shared their surprise.
After all, the story of the JCS so far has been one of unbelievable detail.
It has taken more than five years to get to where we are and every step along the way has been accompanied by report after report, by in depth analysis, by comprehensive review and by increasingly strenuous debate.
The vast majority of the work on the plan has taken place behind closed doors but the final JCS document is as clear an indicator as you could find of just how much time and effort has been invested in trying to plan for the future.
At 1,286 pages, split into two lever arch files, it is easily the lengthiest council document I have ever seen – it’s longer than the King James version of the Bible and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
It is, in short, ridiculously long.
But too much detail is always better than not enough and I think that’s why the “comprehensive assessment” admission struck a nerve.
A more detailed analysis of the JCS evidence base allowed the three councils working on the blueprint to cut the number of planned houses to be built between 2011 and 2031 from 33,200 to 30,500, a reduction of eight per cent that allowed for changes to be made to the plan.
Given what has come before you would have thought a forensic analysis of the seven strategic sites would have been undertaken to figure out which one most deserved to be taken out of the plan.
But that didn’t happen.
How could we have come so far placing such a strong emphasis on the need for evidenced-based decision making and then opt to remove two sites simply because some people wanted to?
Initially it felt wrong, but the more I thought about that point of view the more it struck me as naïve.
There have been plenty of calls from all sides of the debate for people not to politicise the JCS, to only make decisions based on evidence for the good of the three areas involved.
That was never going to happen.
Anyone who claims they have not been playing politics with the plan is either lying or deluded.
There are real world, area-specific consequences for an unpalatable plan and every councillor knows that.
But that’s not the point.
Politics in these circumstances is treated as a dirty word; like it’s the worst thing in the world.
But politics is built into the DNA of local government, plain and simple, and any attempt to say otherwise or to try and move away from that by those involved is disingenuous.
We vote for politicians so we shouldn’t be surprised when they play politics.