CPRE-backed letter to Robert Jenrick says white paper reforms undemocratic
Countryside campaigners have joined with more than 2,000 local councillors to sign a strongly-worded letter to Robert Jenrick opposing the government’s planning reforms set out in its summer white paper.
The letter to housing secretary says the reforms, published in August will lead to an “unacceptable loss of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability” and reduce trust in the planning system.
Signatories to the letter include 350 Conservative councillors, indicating the depth of opposition to the plans in the government’s own ranks.
As well as the 2,000 councillors – equivalent to around one in ten elected members in England – the letter has also been backed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and environmental group Friends of the Earth.
The signatories also claim that the proposed changes – which include the introduction of a “zonal” style planning system in which areas are red-lined for automatic planning permission – “could radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change”.
The government says its reforms will see enhanced local participation in planning decision and protect the countryside, and that it reforms of planning contributions will see developers forced to pay more for affordable housing overall.
However, the letter to Jenrick comes after a large rebellion of Conservative MPs forced the government to backtrack on its initial plans for a formula to determine housing need across England, which critics said would concentrate growth in rural areas across the South and South east at the expense of northern cities.
However, a November survey of MPs commissioned by the CPRE found that as many as 55% of Tory backbenchers also opposed the government’s wider planning reforms contained in the white paper.
The white paper proposed that areas zoned for “growth” will benefit from automatic outline planning permission, effectively granted through a fast-track local plan process.
The white paper also proposes scrapping the current Section 106 system of planning contributions under which more than half of affordable housing is delivered, and replacing it with a nationally set levy.
Hence today’s letter says the white paper proposals “would also weaken provisions for affordable, sustainable, good-quality homes.”
Launching the white paper, the prime minister said the reforms were the most radical since the introduction of the Town and Country Planning system in 1948, and would level the current system to its foundations.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said it was “not too late” for the government to rethink its controversial upheaval of the planning system. “Investing in a locally-led democratic planning system, that empowers local councils to create these places, should be the government’s top priority,” he said.
“We urge Ministers to work with us to develop and deliver a better set of planning reforms that can actually deliver our country’s environmental, economic and social objectives.”
An MHCLG spokesman said: “These concerns are entirely unfounded and demonstrate a misunderstanding of our proposals.
“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.”