Campaigners angry at Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Countryside view in North Yorkshire Campaigners fear the landscape will be spoiled by developers

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Campaigners have accused the government of creating a developers' charter as its Growth and Infrastructure Bill was due to be debated in the Commons.

The government says the bill is needed to stimulate development.

But critics say it betrays ministers' promises to leave planning decisions to be made at local level.

They say it will rush through greenfield schemes for business and housing against the wishes of people living nearby.

Ministers have been persuaded that the planning system causes unnecessary delays to projects that will help the economy and create jobs.

The bill will create a fast-track for large-scale business and commercial projects which will allow decisions to be taken within 12 months.

Decisions on business and retail parks in future may be taken by the secretary of state in the first instance.

It will allow developers to submit plans directly to the national Planning Inspectorate where councils have a track record of poor performance.

The bill will relax rules on developers to deliver social housing, and make it easier to install broadband infrastructure.

It will also make it harder for residents to use "village green" rules to prevent development in their local area.

Start Quote

The bill is a poor recipe for delivering either growth or infrastructure”

End Quote John Hoad Campaign to Protect Rural England

The Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE) says the provisions make a mockery of the government's stated commitment to localism.

CPRE says the plans will spoil some of the UK's best-loved landscapes. It warns of a rash of "broadband clutter" in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

It believes the bill will be counter-productive. John Hoad, head of planning at CPRE, said: "Government rhetoric about local planning inefficiency and bureaucracy holding up economic growth is a diversion from the real issue - lack of funding for development.

"The bill is a poor recipe for delivering either growth or infrastructure. The new laws, combined with the disingenuous message ministers are sending about unnecessary red tape, will seriously damage the capacity of the planning system to protect our countryside and environment and deliver the right growth in the right locations."

Village greens

The Open Spaces Society is particularly angered by changes to village green laws, which apply to any patches of open ground enjoyed by local people - not just in villages.

Kate Ashbrook, its general secretary, said: "The clause will make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to register land as a town or village green once it has been identified for development.

"The government wants to stop so-called 'vexatious' applications to register greens which, it claims, are being submitted solely to thwart development. In fact, few applications are purely vexatious and the clause has the effect of killing genuine applications too."

These and other green groups are also separately strongly opposing plans for almost 200 new road schemes in the countryside, which businesses say will help stimulate the economy.

The greens thought they had won the intellectual war over the economics of road building after the government's technical committee SACTRA warned in the 1990s that there was no guarantee that road building would stimulate jobs.

In fact, the committee said, new roads might actually drain economic activity from a depressed remote area.

CPRE president Sir Andrew Motion said: "New roads will ruin our precious landscape and produce even more misery-making bottlenecks and tailbacks. Other solutions are infinitely preferable - solutions that do not compromise unique and beautiful countryside."

'Aspiration nation'

He is especially concerned about plans for the Wye Valley; the green belt round Durham; the Peak District (Mottram-Tintwistle bypass); Blackdown Hills; and the Norfolk Broads.

The prime minister said on publication of the Growth Bill: "(This) is all about helping our country compete in the global race and building an aspiration nation where we back those who want to get on in life.

"We are slashing unnecessary bureaucracy, giving business the confidence to invest, unlocking big infrastructure projects and supporting hardworking people to realise their dreams."

The bill has been welcomed by developers who say the current rules inhibit projects in unintended ways.

For instance, the law allows councils to oblige developers to pay towards local infrastructure if they build, say, a new office block. It is a de facto development tax.

If developers want to vary a planning consent they are liable to pay a second fee that could run to millions of pounds for a very big scheme. The bill will stop this sort of double-charging.

Developers also say the rule obliging them to create social housing as part of private developments makes some schemes unviable. This too will be altered. And less paperwork will be needed for a planning application.

Labour's shadow planning minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods, said: "All in all the planning system and communities could be seriously damaged by this knee-jerk response to the government's economic failure."

Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University said: "The Bill is presented at a time when public confidence in politicians is at its lowest and ministers should not forget their populist mantra of localism, localism, localism.

"Now, amidst concerns that the wrong sort of localism might result, the government have seen fit to change the agenda in favour of Secretary of State centralism, centralism, centralism. Never has the planning system been in such a pickle."

Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerharrabin


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  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    What this place needs is more social planning genius - Harlows, Basildons and Milton Keynesies, which I hear is very nice. Next to say Chigwell... yeah lets turn Chigwell into Brent or Tower Hamlets. Lets debase everything for growth and equality. Developments dont seem to be homes btw,, they are gated box units for incomed 'investor types'. Cameronian Lowlanders...

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Once again the Tories, with their Neo-Liberal Orange Book conspirators in the Lib Dems, conspire to give big business a hand up at the expense of the smaller, more local businesses......

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Yet another policy to benefit the few at the expense of many, wrapped up as 'necessity' to fool the gullible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Ministers haven’t learned anything from Comet’s failure. The model of using big companies to support economy growth just won’t work. Corruptions, favouritism and high management fees in those big Infrastructure projects will eat out all the public money. They are the reasons that we are in recession in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The Growth and Infrastructure Bill has a nauseating whiff about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    As this coalition centralises decision making (whatever happened to the policy of localism?) will all this Greenbelt destruction lead to large tracts of land being lost to empty commercial premises and as a consequence the developers and their partners to use this empty space to off-set their tax liabilities?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Most planning decisons are dubious.

    A small scale planning application is dealt with reasonably by council planning officers but bigger schemes ....?

    Either agreed on the golf course or inside a Jag in a pub car park directly between the developer & a friendly councillor.
    Any passing of envelopes with cash inside is purely coincidental.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    What's the betting that we won't see any of this development anywhere near Cameron's friends' country estates? Green spaces near cities will be the first to go, but these are important for the general well-being of their populations. There are lots of brownfield sites that should be developed before any thought is given to using greenfield sites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It is a complete fallacy that planning regulations are stifling construction - they are not. Where property developers can make large margins they are able to find land and have extremely efficient skills to bypass local opposition.

    This is just a charter to build big houses on green belt land and the Conservatives will rue the day they tore up England's green and pleasant land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I think its about time we had a written constitution in this country and in that constitution should be a binding clause that an elected government that has made promises must stick to those promises unless there is a very good reason to break them. If it must break them it can only do so by a referendum. I think people are so sick of politics in this country it beggars belief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @69, a plan for growth would be finding ways of encouraging businesses to invest in driving demand rather than increasing supply while castrating sustainable development.

    The plan to provide more housing is not a growth plan, it's a headline grabber. Better to be seen to be doing something than actually doing something.

    The underlying problems are being ignored in favour of short-term gain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I am not sure this will work. We built an olympic village and then sold it, at a loss, to a foreign royal family. Oh no silly me it does work!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    We all know that 'Planning' was struggling in Labour's snail-pace Bureaucratic swamp. All that's happening now - is that the Government is 'oiling the wheels' and speeding up the process - for the sake of Jobs & Industry.

    We mustn't forget that we ALSO need many more Homes - thanks to Labour's 'Floodgate'-immigration...

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I think the developers are worse than and cause more damage than the Luftwafer.

    They have been allowed to get away with ugly Lego style housing estates for years and we are much the poorer for this rape of our lands, path ways, forests, moors, views, wet lands we have lost most of our heritage in the SE. Wildlife has been allowed to go to the wall by 'our' councillars Surrey and Berks ruined.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    This is not what the economy needs. How about building on brownfield sites and not destroying more of our very precious countryside. Remove VAT on renovation and self build and add it to new build projects.

    We need law to protect our Green sites not more buildings

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    We are over populated and thats the problem, so instead of getting rid of the problem, they will create another. It's like sticking a lil plaster over a huge gash

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Labour demands growth and development to stimulate economy. Government promises growth and development. Labour protests against growth and development. That's politics I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Ah,'Gideonism'. "That bit of land isn't making any money,concrete it."
    "But its a lovely spot,full of wildlife etc,people round here love sitting here on a summers day"
    "Can we charge them?"
    "Concrete it".

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    This piece raises many questions but never digs deep enough to lay a proper foundation!

    Who benefits?

    Who sells the land?

    What 'tax breaks' are on offer to the developers?

    'Ministers have been persuaded...' who exactly and by whom?

    Why don't politicians insist on well designed brown field development?

    What is meant by '.....where councils have a track record of poor performance'?


  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Looks like a Spivs' Charter with central Govt aiding big business to make huge profits, leaving the plebs with low paid jobs and eyesore developments.
    When Dave talks about red tape, what he refers to is the sensible planning rules which tone down the excesses of those who think only of money.
    We need development and jobs that benefit the people, not those which line the pockets of the rich.


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