Response to the September 2020 Government White Paper on the reform of the planning system.

By Hugh Worsnip, chairman of the Gloucester Civic Trust Planning Appraisal Panel.

 

The Trust has enjoyed a very fruitful relationship with the Gloucester City Council for many years. The Planning Appraisal Panel is informed of all planning applications as they are verified. We meet the Conservation Officer monthly and comment on all applications involving listed buildings, Scheduled Ancient Monuments and Conservation Areas. We also comment on significant buildings outside Conservation Areas if necessary.

Our main function is to protect and enhance historic buildings, promote good design in new buildings and see that Conservation area and design guide rules are enforced. We very rarely find ourselves at odds with the officers’ recommendations, but these are sometimes not endorsed by elected councillors on the Planning Committee.

My greatest concern having read the White Paper is the shift of planning powers from local people, and their elected representatives, to the central government – and the top down imposition of restrictions and rules.

The amount of work the proposals will impose on local councils will be overwhelming when the staffing has been cut so drastically. The planning service could be delivered faster if the cutbacks were reversed.

Without adequate staff who is going to prepare new local plans in 30 months – a process which currently takes seven years?

The White Paper proposes that the government will zone areas of land for: substantial growth, renewal, or protection but local councils will not be able to debate the principles of the schemes. All planning policy will be decided nationally.

Section 106 agreements, under which developers currently contribute substantial sums of money to councils for affordable housing, schools, roads etc. (£4.7 billion last year in England alone) will be scrapped. Councils will have to borrow money

to pay for these facilities in the hope of receiving recompense from a central fund.

All planning policy will be decided nationally, and housing targets imposed from Whitehall.

Councils will not be able to decide on plans with their neighbouring district councils as is currently the case within Gloucestershire.

The amount of development which can be done without planning permission will be increased.

There will be less say for local elected councillors on individual planning applications because of rules set by the government.

All these proposed changes are undesirable and should not form any part of new planning law.

The White Paper’s concentration on the needs of private house builders will not deliver houses of the type the nation most urgently requires – social housing  for those whose incomes and insecure employment mean that they will never qualify for a mortgage.

There is currently planning permission for a million homes, which have not been built, and 500,000 areas of brownfield land lie undeveloped.

Surprisingly, the White Paper gives very little regard to the major issues of biodiversity, energy conservation and climate change in any meaningful way.

The emphasis on good design is to be welcomed. While there will still be listed buildings and conservation areas in the government’s proposals, buildings of historic and architectural worth outside conservation areas, are not mentioned.