Mixed reception for new planning proposals

Barry White

Just cast your minds back to 2020 when the government attempted to free up construction with new planning legislation which led to a backlash in the Conservative heartlands. Backbench MPs including Theresa May called the approach “ill-conceived”. This week, in the Queen’s Speech, the government finally published its long-awaited response to their original unpopular planning proposals which organisations like the countryside charity CPRE (formerly the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Council for the Protection of Rural England) had been campaigning against for almost two years.

Now, the government is playing down the likelihood that it will hit a manifesto target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. Thanks to strong opposition, plans to remove local community input from planning applications and create oversimplified ‘zones’ for development have been dropped. However, according to the CPRE what the government has given with one hand and taken with the other.

They believe that under new proposals in the proposed Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, policies set by government ministers will hold more weight over what happens on a person’s street than those agreed by their locally elected councillors, or the residents themselves. The countryside charity believes this is a cleverly disguised power grab by the government – and believes that we cannot stand by and let local voices be overlooked, again.

They say that the government has finally taken note and the narrative has shifted – crucially – from arbitrary housing targets to local people needing more of a say over what happens in their community. But the new legislation still doesn’t take local people into account. It seems national policies will now dictate the future of our communities, rather than local plans.

However officials are reported in the media to have said the votes would grant residents the right to allow the development or replacement of properties on their street within design rules and national policies. Development would only go ahead if the proposal is endorsed by a “supermajority” of residents at referendum.

However, not all are impressed. “It has the scope to be very divisive in terms of neighbours,” said Peter Rainier, principal director of planning at law firm DMH Stallard, while the plans were described as “utter madness” by Huw Merriman, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle in East Sussex on Sky News.

Overall the CPRE believes the new package of planning changes are bad news for the climate, bad for green spaces, and bad for affordable housing (see: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/may/11/street-votes-on-planning-rules-will-not-increase-affordable-housing). Meanwhile it is estimated by the National Housing Federation that there are some 4.2 million people in need of social housing in England.

The countryside charity vows to continue to campaign for a planning system with climate, nature and people at its heart and invite you to support them in the coming parliamentary debates on the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. You can visit the CPRE web site at: https://www.cpre.org.uk/

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