Coalition led by CPRE says rethink needed given ‘democratic deficit’ in proposed growth zones 

An umbrella group of conservation and environmental charities has called on the government to ditch plans to remove councils’ right to determine individual planning applications in new-style local “growth” zones.

Green belt land

The influential grouping, led by countryside charity the CPRE and including the UK Green Building Council, also called on the government to act to increase the provision of affordable housing through the planning system, and ensure new development contributes to meeting climate change and biodiversity targets.

A “joint vision for planning” published today follows on from the government’s planning white paper and associated reforms published last August. It sets out 11 priorities, including being “democratic” and community-centred, being plan-led and delivering enough affordable housing.

The government’s white paper proposed a new system under which councils will have to zone a proportion of their land for “growth”, with these zones benefitting from automatic outline planning permission – thus bypassing local planning committee decisions.

The government also consulted on replacing the current system of securing developer contributions via Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy with a new flat-rate infrastructure levy, while in the meantime exempting all developments of fewer than 40 or 50 homes from providing affordable housing.

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of the CPRE, said the government needed to create a planning system that put people, and tackling the climate and ecological emergencies, at its heart.

The government has argued that its plan for “growth” designations will still allow local communities to have a say over development through engagement with the plan-making process

However, Tom Fyans said: “We all deserve a home we can genuinely afford to live in, and to have a say in shaping the communities around us. But, as things stand under the government’s current proposals, the opportunity to influence what happens and where in our communities would be halved.”

Fyans said he welcomed the government’s climbdown before Christmas on plans for a new formula for determining local housing need, and that the government now needed to revisit its other proposals. “We’re calling on ministers to take an equally pragmatic approach to improving policies relating to community voice, affordable homes and access to green spaces.”

The CPRE’s planning policy director, Paul Miner, also told an online event hosted by the CPRE to launch the planning vision that proposals to increase the threshold for affordable housing contributions to developments of at least 40 homes – up from 10 – were taking policy “in the wrong direction”.

He added: “This will leave many areas, including rural areas particularly, without the affordable housing they need.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said the government’s proposed planning reforms did not adequately reflect the planning system’s role in delivering the decarbonisation of the economy, and in enhancing climate resilience and reversing biodiversity decline.

Other contributors to and signatories of the joint planning vision included the RSPB, the Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Cycling UK and the Wildlife Trust.

Responding to the proposals, housing minister Christopher Pincher said there was much in the vision that the government was in agreement with. He added: “We share your vision for a democratic planning system that delivers better outcomes in terms of design and the environment.

He said the system was designed both to protect the natural environment, while also delivering an adequate suply of land for new homes. ”We want plans to be made locally by councils engaging local people, so that’s subject to democratic control, and we want them to be focused on the things that people are most concerned about.”

Before Christmas the government said it had received more than 44,000 responses to the planning white paper that it published in August, and that it would set out a formal response in the spring on how it now plans to take the reforms forward.

This is in advance of the publication of a planning bill in “the autumn”, which is set to contain the necessary legislative changes.