I'm surprised at such nonsense and cynicism from two level headed chaps like yourselves.
I have only one experience with the planning process in the UK; considerably more in other places. So I didn't mean to criticize the UK process directly. I just acknowledged the idea that sooner or later, the thing would get to the national political level, because regional development and jobs are things of interest to politicians.
In my observations there is often a big difference between what the planning process is supposed to be, by law, and what happens behind the scenes to get approvals. It's not supposed to be a political process at all, but it nearly always is. [As one famous U.S. politician remarked years ago, "All politics is local."] Many constituencies are involved, and each wants its own interests addressed ... sometimes by promising things completely unrelated to the site and project up for review. The developer's duty, as you say, is to make objections go away, and sometimes people object with ulterior motives.
I agree with you that it would be political suicide for the process to have gone national too early, before local interests were heard out. But are you really surprised it has done so now?
At the core of it, there are two parts of government, bureaucrats and politicians. The bureaucracy's default answer to approving a project is "no," because they have a steady job, and it would be most threatened by approving a project which proved to be a problem down the road. No one looks back ten years on and fires them for having stopped something; it's all forgotten. The politician's motives are exactly the opposite. The politician is pro-development; he/she wants to see things happen that he/she can take credit for, and get reelected on. And of course, the politician can take campaign donations from developers, while that would be illegal for the bureaucrat.