Theresa May has said that the government’s Planning Bill will put the “wrong homes in the wrong places” and countryside campaigners said that the reforms would mean “open season for developers” in rural areas.
Under the terms of a new bill, land would be designated for either growth or protection, making it easier for developers to secure planning permission for new housing. Ministers are still considering whether or not to include a third, regeneration zone. The prime minister has promised to build 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the decade.
Speaking in the Commons yesterday, May said that the reforms would “reduce local democracy” by automatically giving the green light to homes in areas earmarked for growth. I fear that, unless the government looks again at the white paper planning proposals, what we will see is not more homes, but we will potentially see the wrong homes being built in the wrong places”.
Senior Tories believe that overhauling the planning system is key to maintaining the party’s recent gains in the Red Wall. High levels of home ownership in parts of the north and Midlands are thought to partially explain why so many Labour heartland seats have turned blue.
Conservative MPs in southern constituencies, however, have described the reforms as “ill-thought out” and there is anger that existing homeowners will no longer be able to object to housing developments.
Writing for The Times Red Box today, Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, said that there was a risk of “excessive development doing serious long-term damage to the quality of life of millions of people”. My constituents already feel under siege from attempts to build more and more blocks of flats on what seems like every conceivable parcel of land in the neighbourhood”.
“That could intensify if we get the wrong Planning Bill. But it is not too late to come up with reform which helps us deliver the homes we need; but does so with the consent and support of local communities, not by imposition on them against their will. I will be working with colleagues, and campaign groups such as the CPRE, to try to deliver that”.
At present residents have two opportunities to raise concerns about new housing: when a local plan is drawn up and when an individual application goes in. The Planning Bill would scrap this second tier of democratic consultation amid concerns that affluent homeowners are able to use the existing system to block new buildings in their area.
CPRE, formerly known as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the reforms would lead to a developers’ “free for all”. “The government must urgently rethink the Planning Bill. If not, we’re facing an open season for developers on large parts of the countryside, and a fatal weakening of local communities’ right to be heard on the future of their area”.
As expected, the professional body representing planners welcomed the new bill. Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said “We strongly welcome the greater certainty for development in ‘growth’ zones, which will ensure homes can be built in areas where they are badly needed. Zoning for growth must be combined with active support to see projects through, with master planning and specialist proactive teams. Government has a chance to be truly ambitious here and deliver beautiful, healthy and well-connected green development”.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said “Our reforms will give communities a greater voice from the start of the planning process by making planning much more straightforward and accessible. Locally created design codes will also be introduced, reflecting the preferences of local communities and every council will need to get a local plan in place”.