Planning shake-up – a problem deferred

Barry White

As highlighted in my 13 September article ‘Biggest shake-up of planning laws for 70 years to be abandoned?’ the government has ‘paused’ its proposals with the sacking of Housing Minister Robert Jenrick and his replacement by Michael Gove, who now heads the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government following Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle announced last week.

According to a report in the Financial Times (18 September) Jenrick, who now joins the back benches, was due to announce that the government was to go ahead with a number of the controversial proposals, despite the furious backlash from many within his party including MPs. Now the plans will be paused and reviewed, with discussions with those opposing the measures to see what can be salvaged.

If Jenrick had got his way the changes originally proposed would have forced councils to draw up 10-year plans with all land designated in one of three ways: protected, renewal or growth. In growth zones any proposal meeting the “design code” would have been allowed without the need for a specific planning permission, while land in urban renewal areas would be granted permission in principle.

Although the measures were supported by some Tory MPs they found little support in the party’s traditional heartlands of southern England and the shock loss in June, of the Chesham and Amersham by-election, caused more alarm in government circles when the party suffered a surprise defeat by the Liberal Democrats. In addition many MPs feared the measures would silence communities who would be unable to prevent housing developments in their areas.

Given the pressure on the government from the developers and builders lobbies they are unlikely to scrap all the proposals. Those opposing the planning measures can point to a short term victory, but vigilance will be needed to make sure they don’t reappear in another perhaps watered down form!

Meanwhile in a statement after the reshuffle, Tom Fyans, CPRE (the Countryside Charity) deputy chief executive, said they were ready to work with Gove to make sure that local communities – and the climate – got the best deal possible when badly needed homes were built. He urged the newly appointed Minister to listen to local communities and not developers when considering the future of planning. Tom went on to say: ‘As Michael Gove grapples with his new in-tray, we urge the government to take a fresh look at how to grasp this golden opportunity of creating a planning system fit for the 21st century that has people and nature at its heart.

‘We’re delighted that the government has seen sense and pressed the pause button on its previous deeply unpopular and downright damaging plans to change building rules.

‘But this isn’t enough: we want to see a better planning system that works for people and the planet, and we’ll keep calling on Mr Gove and the government for this.’

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