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Government’s housing reforms blasted for giving public less say over development

PUBLISHED: 06:56 07 August 2020 | UPDATED: 06:56 07 August 2020

Historic reforms of the planning system have been slated as contentious, pitiful and a bad day for local democracy. Pictured, prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Images

Historic reforms of the planning system have been slated as contentious, pitiful and a bad day for local democracy. Pictured, prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Historic reforms of the planning system have been slated as “contentious”, “pitiful” and “a bad day for local democracy”, over fears communities will be excluded from decision-making.

Demolition works continue at the Cefas building, the site of the former Grand Hotel, as part of a major £16m development. Pictures: Mick HowesDemolition works continue at the Cefas building, the site of the former Grand Hotel, as part of a major £16m development. Pictures: Mick Howes

Historic reforms of the planning system have been slated as “contentious”, “pitiful” and “a bad day for local democracy”, over fears communities will be excluded from decision-making.

The government has unveiled draft new laws outlining the biggest shake-up of development rules in England for decades.

Under sweeping new proposals released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), all land would be categorised as either growth, renewal or protected.

And sites earmarked for development in growth areas by local plan documents would have outline approval for development.

Breckland councillor Roger Atterwill is warning communities will be up in armswhen reality sinks in. Photo: Breckland CouncilBreckland councillor Roger Atterwill is warning communities will be up in armswhen reality sinks in. Photo: Breckland Council

The changes, in practice, would remove an entire layer of scrutiny from the development process - with applications automatically green-lit in pre-approved areas - and render public objections and committee decisions obsolete.

Critics have slammed the plans for a lack of detail, an increase in “central control” and for reducing the public’s say over development.

The government has said people will have a “meaningful say” at the broader policy stage instead.

Prime minister Boris Johnson described the white paper, the first stage of any new law, as “radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War”.

Secreary of state Robert Jenrick. Photo: Archant Library.Secreary of state Robert Jenrick. Photo: Archant Library.

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He said the aim was to “level the foundations and build, from the ground up, a whole new planning system for England.”

While housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We are cutting red tape, but not standards. We are moving away from notices on lampposts to an interactive and accessible map-based online system. The planning process will be brought into the 21st century.”

The proposals seek to:

The top of Palmers' building - devoid of gulls for probably the first time ever. Photo: ArchantThe top of Palmers' building - devoid of gulls for probably the first time ever. Photo: Archant

• Streamline permissions for “beautiful buildings”,

• Create an online planning system based on area local plans,

• Ensure all newly-built streets are “tree-lined”,

• And make all councils finish growth visions within 30 months.

Chris Crofts, Conservative councillor for Clenchwarton and King's Lynn South. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Chris Crofts, Conservative councillor for Clenchwarton and King's Lynn South. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

But opponents have blasted the plans, with one councillor warning communities will be “up in arms” when reality sinks in.

READ MORE: Fresh plans for 950 homes, a hotel and school submitted to council

Roger Atterwill, independent councillor in Breckland, said: “They are expecting local communities to have their say at the planning policy stage. Once this has been approved, people will have no right of redress.

“Local councillors, like myself, won’t have any say over how the development looks and whether the infrastructure is appropriate.

Marion Maxwell, Labour councillor for Crome: Pic: Labour.Marion Maxwell, Labour councillor for Crome: Pic: Labour.

“To try and determine all of that at a policy stage will be very difficult for people to understand.”

Mr Atterwill, who sits on Breckland’s planning committee, added: “People will get up in arms and say ‘we don’t want that’ but there’s nothing that can be done.

“It’s a bad day for local democracy. Councillors and people will have much less say on what is built in their communities.”

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And a charity advocating for countryside protections says it has “major concerns” about the raft of potential new changes.

Paul Miner, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:“It will make it more difficult for the public to be involved. It’s still going to be very much in favour of big developers but it’s going to become a more centrally-controlled system.”

And he said the CPRE did not accept the new target of all new homes being zero carbon by 2050 saying: “We think that is pitiful - they should be more ambitious.

“The industry knows how to build zero carbon and should be doing this in five to ten years.”

He added: “Affordable homes is also a big issue. Sites of 50 homes or less won’t have to provide affordable housing. It’s a major concern - most of the sites that come forward from housing in rural areas are small sites.

“You could be losing a huge number of opportunities to provide homes for local people.”

READ MORE: Council approves plans to slash number of affordable homes on controversial estate

While Marion Maxwell, Labour councillor on Norwich City Council’s planning committee, said: “The prime minister is saying ‘build, build, build’ but it should be build properly, build safely and don’t just throw anything up because we need more houses. I don’t want pirate firms paying peanuts to unqualified people.”

However, some councillors have welcomed areas of the proposals.

Sue Lawn, planning committee chairman at Broadland Council, said: “I’m pleased the government is addressing the system and recognising it needs revamping.

“However, I am disappointed that this paper does not address the large developers who have been granted planning permission, who then sit on the land and do not build the homes which they were actually given the permission for”.

And Chris Crofts, West Norfolk Council planning chairman, said: “The real questions will be when we get to the actual detail. It’s going to be very contentious.”

But Mr Jenrick has hit back at criticisms, telling the BBC’s Today programme that people would have the chance for a “meaningful say” at the start of the planning policy process, when broad visions for an area’s growth are drawn up, but would not be able to stop specific developments at the application stage.

READ MORE: Council overspent £700k due to ‘unprecedented’ need for housing service


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