Planning: we have a voice, but soon we won’t

The next phase of the Government’s war on the planning process is here.

We have a voice in development decisions right now in England. Soon we won’t have one that makes any difference.

As you’ll know if you’ve followed our work over the summer, the Government has recently massively increased “permitted development” – that is development where there is no need to submit an application to get permission. Since the summer, property developers have been able to add additional storeys, demolish commercial buildings, and turn shops into homes, all without planning permission.

When it’s permitted development, you don’t get a chance to object. Your council can only “approve” the development based on a short list of criteria. Even if your Council tries refusing to approve, it can’t refuse for any reason not on that list – ie, because the home is a tiny ‘rabbit-hutch’. That’s because despite promising to, the Government has not yet introduced space standards for homes. It’s been put off again from April next year, to the summer.

No planning application process also means no funds for local public services, and no requirements for affordable homes in these new developments.

We challenged the Government in court for bringing these new, permanent, laws on permitted development into place without even consulting on the impact they would have on people’s lives. We lost, but we are now appealing.

Here comes yet more ‘permitted development’

Now the Government has announced even more changes to take things out of the control of local councils and to stop you having a voice by making them “permitted development”.  Under the proposals more community buildings – like creches and gyms – can be turned into housing without planning.

Most local councillors think the latest reforms on having a zoned planning system in England are undemocratic. These latest changes will go further than a zoned system where at least Councillors would have had a say on the zones.  Under even more “permitted development”, councillors and residents will not have a say on whether any sort of commercial, business or service gets changed into housing or what sort of use is made of a building. Nor will the existing rules on climate change or design apply, not even in conservation areas.

We all want new “public infrastructure” – meaning schools, colleges, hospitals and prisons. But these proposals suggest cutting consultation time on applications for new buildings to just two weeks. We think it only makes the decision better if we consider all the relevant issues, including local people’s views, and for that we need reasonable time.

We cannot say it enough

For over 70 years in England, most of us have thought it was a good idea to think about development as something that affected the people around us.  We needed to not just think about our own private interest in it, but how it might impact our community. Local democracy controlled what happened where – representing that crucial public interest.  Now the Government is focussing on just the private interest.

It is not the people who object who are the problem. Mostly they are simply pointing out the obvious; what about the traffic, the noise, the pollution, the need to tackle climate change, the quality and affordability of the homes for the poorest amongst us? All of these issues need to be treated with the respect they deserve, not silenced through a blanket law that gives away our voice and rips control from our local councils.

 

 

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