Government faces backlash over proposals to speed up planning process

Government faces massive backlash over proposals to speed up planning process as 2,000 councillors – including 350 Tories – write to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to warn they will not accept ‘loss of local control’ over new developments

  • The Government is pushing forward reforms to speed up the planning process
  • But 2,000 councillors wrote to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to urge rethink
  • There are fears proposals would result in a ‘loss of local control’ over housing 

The Government is facing a massive backlash over its plans to speed up the planning process after more than 2,000 councillors wrote to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to call for a rethink. 

Ministers are pushing ahead with reforms which would streamline current rules and cut red tape in a bid to boost the building of new homes across the country. 

But councillors and campaigners believe the proposals will result in local voices being sidelined in the planning process, with unwanted developments being forced on communities. 

They have warned the Government its overhaul could result in a ‘loss of local control over developments’. 

Mr Jenrick is facing growing political pressure to rethink his shake-up, with more than 350 Tory councillors among the group of more than 2,000 local politicians from across England to have signed an open letter to the Housing Secretary.    

More than 2,000 councillors have signed an open letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick calling for a rethink of the Government’s planning reforms

The Government’s proposals include speeding up the creation of local plans by communities and creating zones for growth, renewal or protection, with development in growth areas pre-approved as long as it meets local design standards.

The changes would result in much quicker development in renewal areas while the planning process would be based on a clearer, rules-based system.  

But councillors believe the plans will undermine local democracy by removing the public’s right to be heard in person at local plan examinations and taking away development decisions from elected planning committees.

They said the zoning system could radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change, and put additional pressure on greenfield sites.

The proposals would also weaken provisions for affordable, sustainable, good-quality homes, the open letter warned.

The letter stated: ‘The right development, in the right place has the potential to deliver social equity and sustainable economic growth, as well as meeting our environmental ambitions. The Government’s proposals as they stand will not achieve these goals.’

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, which hosted the letter alongside Friends of the Earth, said it was not too late for the Government to rethink its changes to the planning system.

‘Planning done well can create the affordable and well-designed homes that communities are crying out for,’ he said.

‘We can create low-carbon and nature-friendly homes, with an abundance of green space on their doorsteps, all connected by low-carbon public transport.

‘Investing in a locally led democratic planning system, that empowers local councils to create these places, should be the Government’s top priority.’

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, senior planner at Friends of the Earth, added: ‘It’s clear to so many MPs, councillors and local communities that the Prime Minister’s vision for decision-making on development in England is not one that guarantees local control and centres local voices.’

She warned that the proposals would ‘drown out community voices, stifle local democratic responsibility, and weaken legal protections for the environment’.

Boris Johnson has pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of this decade

Commenting on the letter, James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: ‘Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.’ 

The Conservative Party pledged in its 2019 general election manifesto to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.  

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the concerns were unfounded and ‘demonstrate a misunderstanding of our proposals’.

They added: ‘Our reforms to the planning system will protect our cherished countryside and green spaces for generations to come.

‘The proposals will put local democracy at the heart of the planning process, enabling Green Belt decisions to remain with councils and giving communities real influence over development location and design.’ 

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