“Almost three-quarters of local councils believe that the planning system is weighted too heavily in favour of developers at the expense of local democracy, according to a survey.
Commissioned by the National Trust and carried out by the Local Government Information Unit, the survey canvassed 1,200 ward councilors in England on aspects of the planning system.
The results, published today, show that 72% of councillors feel the existing system puts the interests of developers over and above those of councils and communities. Also, half of councillors said planning departments are inadequately funded, and the same amount claimed sites that are not in line with their council’s local plans are being approved for new housing.
The government has pushed for the adoption of local plans throughout England. In a statement to the Commons in 2015, then housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis described local plans as the “cornerstone” of the government’s planning reforms. Produced in consultation with communities, they are designed to offer “certainty on where new homes are to be built”.
The survey findings come as the government puts the final touches to its housing white paper, which is expected to be published later this month. The National Trust and LGIU urged Whitehall to revise the paper to boost confidence in the way the system works.
In a joint statement, the organisations argued that the views of councillors were often ignored in debates around the future of the planning system. “Yet, as local decision-makers, and an important link with local communities, they have an essential role to play in ensuring development is sensitive to the needs of the area,” they said.
Theresa May’s government has responded to pressure over a lack of new housebuilding in the country by announcing a raft of new measures and significant funding to boost construction.
As such, communities secretary Sajid Javid last week invited housing providers to bid for a share of a £7bn fund in what was described as a “dramatic expansion” of the affordable house programme.
The survey also revealed anxieties about loosened planning restrictions, with 58% of councillors believing their council would allocate green belt land for housing in the next five years. There are also concerns about the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office-to-residential use conversions and other changes of use.
Moreover, the National Planning Policy Framework does not appear to be having the positive impact it was intended to have on design quality. Only 18% of councillors say designs have improved, and only 12% believe that loosening planning restrictions has had any positive impact.
Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGiU, said that five years on from the adoption of the government’s planning reforms, it was worrying that councillors felt it hadn’t delivered the localism that was promised.
He said: “If ministers are serious about local plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the housing white paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”