A dramatic loosening of planning laws to create a housebuilding boom will damage local democracy and destroy swathes of countryside by granting property developers a freer hand to build over green fields, planning experts have warned.
[Likely to prove controversial with backbenchers with backbone – would that include Jupp and Parish? – Owl]
Robert Booth www.theguardian.com
The new laws, part of the government’s “Project Speed” to accelerate infrastructure projects, are intended to increase the number of homes being planned by more than a third, and were announced in the Queen’s speech. But critics described them as “an utter disaster” which would return the country to “a deregulated dark age of development”.
Ministers are expected to enact a radical shift in the way decisions are made on new developments by zoning land either for growth, where developers will be allowed to build homes and related infrastructure such as schools and hospitals without individual planning consents, or protection where development will be restricted.
It wants to boost home ownership in areas of increasing Conservative support in northern England and the Midlands and will use post-Brexit freedoms to “simplify … environmental assessments for developments”.
It said there will be stronger rules on design – but countryside campaigners warned the changes would lead to the “suburbanisation” of the countryside and “rural sprawl” without delivering much-needed affordable housing.
The councils body the Local Government Information Unit said the changes would “leave local government with the political liability on planning whilst depriving them … of the powers to manage it effectively”.
The Queen’s speech did not include a bill to improve regulation of social housing despite a government white paper last year. Grenfell United, which represents the bereaved and survivors of the 2017 council block disaster, said it was “deeply let down” at the failure to “redress the balance of power between social housing tenants and landlords”.
Plans to reform leaseholds went as far as a new bill so leaseholders of new, long residential leases cannot be charged a financial ground rent for no tangible service. But there was no plan for helping current leaseholders pay up to £10bn in fire safety costs from faults discovered after Grenfell.
Announcing a planning bill that is expected to be the most radical since the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act, the government promised “simpler, faster procedures for producing local development plans, approving major schemes, assessing environmental impacts and negotiating affordable housing and infrastructure contributions”.
But Fiona Howie, the chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said: “It is disappointing that the government’s narrative has focused, once again, solely on housing numbers. If we are truly committed to building back better, we need the built environment to support communities to thrive.”
She also said the bill must “ensure planning radically reduces our carbon emissions”, describing the legislation as the “last chance”.
The moves were described as an “utter disaster” by the Lancashire, Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester branch of the CPRE charity, which lobbies to protect the countryside.
“We will see a lot more houses on greenfield land and in areas of outstanding natural beauty,” said Debra McConnell, the chair of the branch. “The people in the north of England need these green spaces for their wellbeing.”
The CPRE also warned the bill, which will largely apply only in England, ran counter to the proposed environmental bill and would “take us back to a deregulated dark age of development”. It fears most of the new homes are unlikely to be low-cost or affordable.