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Councillors lament lack of localism in planning system

Councillors have lamented the lack of local democracy in house planning, with a majority warning that the system leans too far in the favour of housing developers at the cost of local communities, a survey has revealed.

A survey of over 1,200 ward councillors in England carried out by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), and commissioned by the conservation charity the National Trust, has revealed that councillors believe the current planning system does not consider the wishes of councils and communities as much as it should.

Councillors have warned against the current system with over half of those surveyed advising that planning departments are not adequately resourced and that sites are being improved for new housing despite not being in line with the local plan, including sites on green belt land.

“The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live,” said Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGiU.

“Councillors are the most important link between communities and that system. Our survey with the National Trust shows that many councillors feel that this democratic tool is at risk of being undermined.”

The survey revealed ongoing councillor reservations about the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), with only 18% of councillors feeling that design has improved since it was introduced. The NPPF was criticised by the CLG Select Committee as long ago as 2014 for failing to protect against unsustainable development and was earmarked for a comprehensive overview in April last year.

Particularly, councillors have raised concerns about the loosening of the planning system permitted by the NPPF such as the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office to residential use conversions and other changes of use. Approximately 60% of councillors believe that due to the framework, green belt land is at risk of being allocated for housing by their councils within the next five years.

The results of the survey come as the government prepares to announce its housing white paper in response to the growing problems in ensuring a sufficient number of homes nationwide, particularly affordable homes.

Ingrid Samuel, historic environment director at the National Trust, declared it “worrying” that councillors feel that the NPPF hasn’t delivered the localism that was promised despite almost five years having passed since its introduction.

“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,” Samuel said.

The LGiU and the National Trust expressed hopes that the government will use the paper to improve council confidence in the planning system, instead of setting rigid housing numbers which do not consider local factors such as areas of outstanding national beauty.

Their suggestions for steps the government could take included more resources for local planning authorities, stronger government backing for councils setting design standards, and an increased ability for councils to recognise local constraints and focus development appropriately.

(Image c. Yui Mok, Press Association)

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Alan Wilson   12/01/2017 at 16:54

It is quite clear that the relentless parliamentary lobbying by the voracious and duplicitous house builders have severely canted a genuine requirement for more homes to one of a gold rush to destroy this green and pleasant land. Decisions and targets should be set at local council level where true demand has been clearly identified and verified Not reset by centrally commanded planning inspectorate who are totally out of control and do NOT ANSWER TO THE LOCAL ELECTORATE. Mrs May please set the reset button and bring back LOCALISM

Douglas Denyer   12/01/2017 at 23:28

This article, and the vast majority of news pieces available outside of industry pieces, emphasises just how ignorant and out of touch local people, councillors and career politicians are with the development industry. Do people really not appreciate the severity of the housing crisis we are in? We point the finger at migrants, international investors and land banking developers but the reality is the predominant cause of this crisis is the toxic politics we've allowed to take over planning, with the Green Belt being the most toxic policy of all. Greenfield and green infrastructure protection has the potential to formulate fantastic environments in which we can grow communities but instead we've allowed this misunderstood, misapplied policy to manipulate how the development industry approach strategic land. The result, poor quality, dormitory housing estates which provide little to no infrastructure and no community benefit. Councils and councillors have the opportunity to work with developers both when formulating Local Plans and through the development control process; however, they abuse this position to play local opposition politics. Does anyone actually think this cat and mouse game is working? Yes, invest in local authority planning departments. Yes, empower good design policy and champion best practice. However, do so to work with the private sector, helping unlock development opportunities. The result? More brownfield development, more affordable housing, more infrastructure provision (schools, roads, gp surgeries etc.). Local people love to shame developers when in reality they should be looking at themselves. It's the middle class, home owning, NIMBY that should really be ashamed at what they've created. How dare you look down from your seat of comfort and prevent others from being able to achieve what you have. Shame.

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