SO Warrington found itself at the centre of national news last week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson rocked up at a building site in Stretton, donned a hard hat and high viz jacket and pretended to lay a couple of bricks.

Of course, nothing is done by accident and his visit coincided with the announcement of the ‘long overdue’ (his words, not mine) overhaul of the planning regulations.

I’m guessing those words sent of shiver of fear down the spines of our south Warrington residents who seem to be very protective of their bit of our green and pleasant land.

The prospect of not having any say over who builds what and where will surely get the good people of Appleton and Stretton reaching for their pens to send a strongly worded letter of disappointment to their MP.

So what are these radical changes?

Under the government’s proposals, which have gone out to consultation, land will be divided into three categories – ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ or ‘protected’.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said local people would get a ‘meaningful say’ at the start of the planning process, at the point when local plans are drawn up, but that’s your lot. After that, residents will not be able to block new schemes.

The consultation suggests that if land is designated for ‘renewal’ councils would have to look favourably on new developments but somewhat controversially, in ‘growth’ areas, new homes, hospitals and schools will be allowed automatically without having to go through any planning process.

Needless to say, areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the ‘protected’ category. Now I wouldn’t want to be accused of cynicism but if I was a gambling man, I would wager that the Cotswolds and huge swathes of the south east will fall in the ‘protected’ category.

After all, you wouldn’t want to upset your voters, would you?

Oh and one more thing, ‘beautiful buildings’ will be fast-tracked through the system. At this point, I’m wondering exactly who will be the arbiter of ‘beauty’ as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So that’s it then, when the bulldozers move in to start flattening Appleton, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Talking of planning, this column was written before Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s development management committee where plans for a 25-storey tower block in Warrington town centre were due to be considered.

The tower forms the centrepiece of a massive redevelopment on what is currently a car park at Winwick Street, opposite Central Station

The plans included four housing blocks, including the huge tower. The outline planning application also includes a 160-bed hotel, office space and potentially bars and restaurants.

I work in Manchester and from my office window I can see the Beetham Tower (47 storeys) and the four Deansgate Square towers, (64 storeys, 50 storeys, 44 storeys and 37 storeys).

They don’t look out of place, but it’s all about context and there’s no doubt that a 25-storey tower block in the middle of Warrington would completely dominate the landscape.

Unusually for me, I don’t have a strong opinion about this one way or the other. It may be the 550 residential units it will provide will be exactly what’s needed to revitalise the town centre, providing the catalyst Warrington needs in a post-coronavirus era.

Or it may be so dominant it ruins the town for years to come. Who knows?

What I did find interesting were the comments on the Guardian’s website which seemed to be along the lines of: ‘It’s a good idea – build up, not out’.

Although I did get the impression those in the ‘build up, not out’ brigade all seemed to be from south Warrington and hoped the town centre tower would spare them from future development.

On a different topic, I’m beginning to feel a little bit like Colonel Robert Baden-Powell at the siege of Mafeking. Only the ‘enemy’ is the coronavirus.

Thankfully, Warrington has so far been spared the much-feared and much-anticipated Covid-19 second spike – although the 13 new positive coronavirus cases in Warrington last week compared to four in the previous seven days is a little concerning.

Anyway, back to being under siege. Over the past couple of weeks, we had Greater Manchester to the north and east under extra lockdown measures, now we have Halton to the south and west. Halton’s infection rate has risen to an estimated 270 symptomatic cases per 100,000 residents – the third highest prevalence on the King’s College London’s Covid Symptom Study ‘watch list’ behind Blackburn with Darwen and Kirklees and the highest in the Liverpool City Region.

We are truly surrounded.

My advice: Avoid Scousers and Mancs, wear a mask, wash your hands and, as Sting once sang, Don’t stand so close to me.