Sunday, 26 September 2021

Tories criticised by own members over new planning bill

Tories criticised by own members over new planning bill

THE Government’s proposed reform of the planning system has been criticised by members of its own party.

The Planning Bill was included in last month’s Queen’s Speech and is key to the Government’s aim to deliver 300,000 new homes in England every year.

It is due to be brought before Parliament in the autumn and would designate land for growth, protection or renewal.

Land designated for growth would receive automatic outline planning permission, with local councils being unable to turn down applications.

Opponents say this would mean homes being built in the wrong places and residents and local councils would have no say.

The renewal category may also be scrapped before the bill is finalised.

Former prime minister Theresa May, who is MP for Maidenhead, is among the Conservatives opposing the bill, calling it “mechanistic”.

She said: “We need to make sure that our planning system sees the right number of homes being built in the right places but we won’t do that by removing local democracy, cutting the number of affordable homes that will be built and building over rural areas — and that is exactly what these reforms will lead to.

“We do need to build more homes but we won’t do that by forcing local authorities to grant more planning permissions to developers so they can build more homes to bring the price down because developers simply won’t do it.”

Last year, the Government produced another white paper called Planning for the Future, which used a computer-based formula to decide where houses should be located.

The algorithm would have forced Wokingham borough to accept 1,600 new homes a year, double the current number.

John Halsall, leader of the borough council, said he was sceptical about the latest proposals.

He said: “The Government wants to reach 300,000 new homes a year but as a consequence it is trying to clear the decks of any roadblocks to that ambition. We take issue with the assertion that it’s the local authorities who are the problem.

“We believe local authorities are doing a good job in trying to get homes agreed — the 300,000 target was met last year. It is developers who are taking options on land and then sitting on those options.

“I believe that any reform of the planning system should include an obligation on developers to build what they already have permission for.”

Cllr Halsall, who lives in Remenham, said planning permission had already been granted for more than one million houses in England that were still to be built.

He added: “If housing is market-driven, it will be contrary to the levelling up concept. I believe the Government needs to do what they did in the Fifties, which is to help move more economic activity to the areas where there is a need.

“In my view, it is trying to run planning in a centralised fashion and I think that would be a mistake.”

Councillor Sue Cooper, the Liberal Democrat leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “The bill is very unpopular with a large number of Conservatives and not just the rest of us. It needs a lot more local input than a blanket designation.

“There are plenty of homes with planning permission across the country that are not being built. Developers aren’t going to build when they can’t make a reasonable profit and the housing we need is affordable, not the high-end stuff.

“It was very noticeable when I was delivering leaflets for the local elections that the small houses in Benson were full and the empty ones were the big posh ones. We are not building the right houses.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “We must ensure that the planning system is speeded up, that the cost is driven down and that people have access to it.”

One way of speeding up the process would be to use independent expert mediators instead of going to the High Court to appeal.

Mr Howell also said he hoped the bill would resolve the position of neighbourhood plans, adding: “They do not produce nimby charters; they produce plans that take a look at what is involved as a stake in the future and produce affordable housing.”

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