Buckinghamshire Council calls on Government to think again on planning reforms

The Council are deeply unhappy with proposed reforms to planning applications.
The council are unhappy with some of the suggestionsThe council are unhappy with some of the suggestions
The council are unhappy with some of the suggestions

They have outlined the detrimental effects planning would have across the county.

The Government's 'Planning for the Future' document has ruffled a few feathers across the UK, and while the council say some aspects would be beneficial, they are unhappy with several others.

They believe the planning reforms would:

-Reduce local democratic accountability - the proposals in the White Paper seek to over-centralise and standardise decision making at the expense of local accountability and democracy.

-Reduce engagement in Local Plans - the proposals would reduce the opportunity for public engagement in the drafting of policies and it will only become clear what has been permitted later on in the process when their involvement will be too late.

-Impose inflated housing targets - the council has expressed grave concerns about how the Government’s methodology is derived, again raising significant issues of reducing local democratic accountability in the planning process.

-Reduce properly funded affordable housing - the government proposes that local authorities borrow money in order to forward fund affordable housing. The council believes this to be an ill-considered solution. Tax payers would effectively be subsidising loans to developers and landowners. The Council would also not support reducing the number of development sites that are required to provide for affordable housing – particularly as small developments play such an important role in Buckinghamshire’s rural areas.

-Put a burden on council resources - developers should fund the full cost of development - the council opposes the proposed delay in payment of the infrastructure levy as set out in the White Paper. Upfront payment is essential if the infrastructure to support development is to be in place prior to occupation.

-Improve design, planning enforcement and local authority cooperation with other public bodies - the council welcomes the emphasis on design, greater penalties for people who break planning rules and the abolition of the ludicrous ‘duty to cooperate’

Councillor Warren Whyte, Cabinet Member for Planning and Enforcement said: “The Council meticulously scrutinised the government’s consultation paper and our response not only raises some very important points with the government but also provides alternative suggestions that we feel would benefit our residents and the planning process overall.

"We hope our response highlights our areas of concern and will assist the government to develop a planning system for the future that is democratic, fair and simple to use and encourages good quality, sustainable development that enhances our area.”

The Government said that the current planning system is 'complicated', and they were looking to streamline operations.

They said:

"The current planning system is complicated, favours larger developers and often means that much needed new homes are delayed.

"We’re proposing a new system which is easier for the public to access, transforms the way communities are shaped and builds the homes this country needs.

"The changes will mean more good quality, attractive and affordable homes can be built faster – and more young families can have the key to their own home."

In the new system local areas will develop plans for land to be designated into three categories:

• Growth areas will back development, with development approved at the same time plans are prepared, meaning new homes, schools, shops and business space can be built quickly and efficiently, as long as local design standards are met.

• Renewal areas will be suitable for some development - where it is high-quality in a way which meets design and other prior approval requirements the process will be quicker. If not, development will need planning approval in the usual way.

• Protected areas will be just that – development will be restricted to carry on protecting our treasured heritage like Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks.

They added that the reforms will mean :

• Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current 7 years it often takes.

• Every area to have a local plan in place - currently only 50% of local areas has an up-to-date plan to build more homes. • The planning system will be made more accessible, by harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data.

• Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined.

• The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned.

• A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay – this will provide more certainty about the number of affordable homes being built.

• The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.

• All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued the following statement on the matter, saying:

"I never cease to be amazed by the incredible potential of this country. The vast array of innovations and talent that, when combined with our extraordinary can-do spirit, has brought forth everything from the jet engine to gene editing therapy.

"But as we approach the second decade of the 21st century that potential is being artificially constrained by a relic from the middle of the 20th – our outdated and ineffective planning system.

"Designed and built in 1947 it has, like any building of that age, been patched up here and there over the decades.

"Extensions have been added on, knocked down and rebuilt according to the whims of whoever’s name is on the deeds at the time. Eight years ago a new landlord stripped most of the asbestos from the roof.

"But make-do-and-mend can only last for so long and, in 2020, it is no longer fit for human habitation.

"Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity. Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole thing is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do – tear it down and start again.

"That is what this paper proposes.

"Radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War.

"Not more fiddling around the edges, not simply painting over the damp patches, but levelling the foundations and building, from the ground up, a whole new planning system for England.

"One that is simpler, clearer and quicker to navigate, delivering results in weeks and months rather than years and decades.

"That actively encourages sustainable, beautiful, safe and useful development rather than obstructing it.

"That makes it harder for developers to dodge their obligations to improve infrastructure and opens up housebuilding to more than just the current handful of massive corporations.

"That gives you a greater say over what gets built in your community.

"That makes sure start-ups have a place to put down roots and that businesses great and small have the space they need to grow and create jobs.

"And, above all, that gives the people of this country the homes we need in the places we want to live at prices we can afford, so that all of us are free to live where we can connect our talents with opportunity.

"Getting homes built is always a controversial business. Any planning application, however modest, almost inevitably attracts objections and I am sure there will be those who say this paper represents too much change too fast, too much of a break from what has gone before.

"But what we have now simply does not work.

"So let’s do better. Let’s make the system work for all of us. And let’s take big, bold steps so that we in this country can finally build the homes we all need and the future we all want to see."