Response to Government White Paper Planning for the Future
The Government White Paper “Planning for the Future” was published on 10th August 2020, with a 12 week consultation period ending on 29th October 2020.
Hixon Parish Council liaised with other parish councils in the Trent Valley to agree a shared response. By agreeing a joint position, local parish councils believe it will send a stronger message to the Government .
RESPONSE BY HIXON PARISH COUNCIL AND FELLOW PARISH COUNCILS IN THE TRENT VALLEY AREA
Prepared by Cllr. Brendan McKeown
The principle objects of the White Paper is to “simplify” the role of Local Plans and to focus on identifying three ‘new’ land categories:
- Growth areas; Land identified as suitable for development, where outline approval for substantial development would be automatically secured for the forms and types of development specified in the Plan;
- Renewal; areas suitable for some development, such as ‘gentle densification’;
- Protected: areas where development is ‘restricted’
The proposals seek to ‘halve the time’ it takes to secure planning permission on larger sites identified in the Plan. Local Authorities would also be encouraged to identify ‘sub-areas’ in the Growth areas for self and custom build homes.
The Government will set out ‘general development policies nationally’ alongside ‘locally produced design codes.’ Time to produce Local Plans will be cut by at least two-thirds. Local plan ‘policies’ will be replaced by ‘just a core set of standards and requirements for development.’
The Local Plan consultation process will be ‘streamlined’ to take out ‘delays’ caused by a ‘small minority of voices.’ It is proposed that the entire Local Plan process (from very beginning; call for sites; first proposals, first public consultation, identification and classification of land categories, second public consultation, creation of draft Local Plan document, submission and sign off by Planning Inspectorate for adoption) will be limited, by legislation, to no more than 30 months in total.
Community ‘involvement’ will replace ‘meaningless consultation.’
The Planning process will also be digitalised, replacing hard copy documents with electronic data. The Government will equip local authorities with ‘world-class civic engagement and proactive plan-making’ technology and resources.
The Government will also ‘facilitate ambitious improvements in energy efficiency standards for buildings to help deliver our world-leading commitment to net-zero by 2050.’
‘Creation of beautiful places’ will be made easier for those who want to ‘build beautifully through the introduction of a fast track for beauty….to automatically permit proposals for high quality developments where they reflect local character and preferences.’
The proposed reforms will ‘sweep away months of negotiation of Section 106 Agreements’ to be replaced by a ‘nationally set, value-based flat rate Infrastructure Levy.’
The Government will set a new nationally determined and binding housing requirement for local authorities. ‘Masterplans and design codes for substantial development sites should seek to include a variety of development types from different builders’ (which will be explored further to support faster build out ‘as we develop our proposals for the new planning system’)
With respect to Neighbourhood Plans, the White Paper says “we think they should be retained in the reformed planning system, BUT we will want to consider whether their content should become more focussed to reflect our proposals for Local Plans.’
The over-arching thread that runs the White Paper proposals is to speed up the planning process, but will local authority and public scrutiny be sacrificed to facilitate speed?
Local authorities will have to deliver decisions on planning applications within 8 weeks for most applications or 13 weeks for major developments. This will allow less time and opportunities for parish councils and individuals to comment on major developments in their areas.
Local authorities that do not deliver decisions within the statutory time frame will be required to refund the application fee. And if the local authority refuses an application that is subsequently allowed on appeal, the fee will be refunded and costs automatically awarded against the local authority to the developer.
The current planning process may not be perfect, but changing it so that all the cards are stacked in favour of the developer is not the way to improve it.
Many people have already called the proposals in the White Paper a ‘developers charter’ and it is hard not to come to the same conclusion.
Neighbourhood Plan involvement will be little more than tinkering with the minor details of substantial developments. What colour lampposts? Street name signs?
The Government White Paper would like to see more developments to reflect local character. It is unfortunate, but properties in Stafford Borough do not have a local character or vernacular that makes it different, unlike, say, the Cotswolds. So, in reality, the major housebuilders will build what they like to build, standard units based on standard plans that are the same across the Country.
RESPONSE FROM HIXON PARISH COUNCIL:-
OBJECT TO THE PROPOSALS WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER “PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE”
The reasons for the objection are:
- Public scrutiny of planning proposals will be sacrificed in favour of speed;
- The input of Parish Councils, Neighbourhood Plans and individual members of the public will be greatly diminished by the proposals;
- The top-down policy making will diminish the authority of elected members of local planning committees and local democracy will be side-lined;
- Insufficient detail is provided to make valuable responses to some of the proposals;
The above summary was supported by a detailed response to the twenty six prescribed questions in the consultation document.