Rewrite 'yes to development' planning change, say MPs

 
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MPs are calling on ministers to rewrite a key part of its controversial changes to planning rules in England, removing the default "yes" to development.

Ministers say a simplified planning system is needed to boost growth and encourage sustainable development.

But the Commons communities committee said in a report that the government had slimmed down guidance so much it was now often "unhelpfully vague".

Planning Minister Greg Clark says the MPs support the key changes proposed.

At the heart of the government's planning reforms is a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" which ministers say will boost house building and other economic growth while not harming communities, the environment or the countryside.

Ministers have cut more than 1,000 pages of regulations down to just 52 to overcome planning delays which they claim cost the economy £3bn a year.

But their draft plans provoked angry protests from groups including the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who are concerned that they could lead to a return to urban sprawl and damaging development.

'Confusion'

Now the Commons communities and local government committee has warned that the changes risk becoming "unbalanced" and favouring "unsustainable development".

The MPs highlight the default "yes" in the reforms that gives the go-ahead to development unless the adverse effects "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh the benefits.

"This carries the risk of the planning system being used to implement poorly planned, unsustainable development", the report says.

"The 'default yes' to development and the phrase 'significantly and demonstrably' should be removed from the text."

The MPs welcome a government commitment to take the consultation process seriously and to reinstate a policy to build on brown field sites first.

But the committee's Labour chairman Clive Betts said changes are needed to the so-called National Planning Policy Framework.

"The way the framework is drafted currently gives the impression that greater emphasis should be given in planning decisions to economic growth," he said.

"This undermines the equally important environmental and social elements of the planning system."

The report also warns there is a danger that, far from speeding up the planning process, in the short term the changes would slow it down by introducing "confusion" where previously there was detailed guidance - and warns that "planning by appeal" could be the outcome.

The MPs said ministers had gone too far in cutting back existing planning guidance.

"Critical wording has been lost and what remains is often unhelpfully vague," the report said.

Ministers should produce "a tighter, clearer document, and should not make a fetish of how many pages it is".

The committee also recommends that once the changes are finalised all planning advice is reviewed - item by item - "lest councils spend valuable time reinventing numerous wheels".

Housing shortage

But John Stewart from the Home Builders' Federation says the planning system must change.

"For the last 20 years environmental concerns have been dominant and as a consequence we have a housing shortage," he told the BBC.

"There are roughly a million homes over the last 20 years that should have been built which haven't been.

Start Quote

They say that the core principle, the presumption in favour of sustainable development in their words should be a 'golden thread' running through the planning system”

End Quote Greg Clark Planning minister

"And looking forward we are building about 100,000 homes a year and we should be building well over 250,000, so we have a very serious housing crisis."

Campaigners against the planning overhaul have welcomed the MPs' report.

Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust, said the committee's report provided "irresistible pressure" on ministers to improve their plans.

"Along with nearly 230,000 people who signed our petition against the changes, the select committee has identified the clear changes that need to be made to the draft national planning policy framework so that it delivers a planning system that balances social and environmental needs with those of the economy," she said.

But Minister Mr Clark said the MPs support the key thrust of the government's plans.

"They say that the core principle, the presumption in favour of sustainable development in their words should be a 'golden thread' running through the planning system.

"What they felt is ... there are some ambiguities and have suggested some changes. I have invited them to advise me and so of course I'm going to take their advice very seriously."

The shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn said the report was a "pretty damning criticism" of the government's proposals.

"They are going to have to redraft their plans," he said.

"Local councils have got to be given the opportunity to draw up their new development plans in the light of what the government is proposing and I strongly support what the committee has said about there being a reasonable interval to allow councils to do that so they are not left at the mercy of these new proposals."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 266.

    Country is going to the dogs and there's nothing we can do about it. We've done it to ourselves with our exploding population, greed, and speculation. It's time to buy up some wilderness in Scotland and fortify up ready for the fall of Western Civilisation

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 265.

    What?rewrite the method of the Cons building mates making a fortune at the expense of the environment,perish the thought.The banks etc are going to make getting a mortgage even harder within the next few months so how does all these new houses help the homeless.What is so wrong with councils building new houses for the homeless other then the Tory dogma stated by Maggie against the working class.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 264.

    The CPRE do annoy me.

    The go on about "all the brownfield sites" without pointing out that these are largely in places like Derby and Birmingham, not in the South East where the real demand is.

    The CPRE could set an example by basing themselves on a brownfield site in Derby. But nope - they choose central London and then feign surprise that the South East is overcrowded.

    Typical hypocrisy.

  • rate this
    +41

    Comment number 263.

    If the government can force purchase of land for railways, roads, etc, then it should force purchase of brownfield land sitting in landbanks of supermarkets/speculators. Instead of tiny terraced houses you can't swing a cat in, it should demand well-designed, spacious, soundproofed flats for people who work in town to cut down commuting. For goodness sake don't build on land we can grow food on!

  • rate this
    +25

    Comment number 262.

    How much is there a real housing shortage, and how much is there a mismatch between where houses are and where jobs are? Rather than build more houses in SE England where infrastructure and the environment are creaking at the seams why not create more jobs where there are vacant houses e.g NE England, Wales and the SW?

    Sadly affordable housing makes less profit than "executive" developments.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 261.

    254 teedoff
    No, must admit I like a bit of Nimbyism - when it's me!

    However, I thought we needed jobs in these areas before housing and believe me in the country there aren't any!

    Not everyone relishes an hours drive to get a pound of butter or some tea-bags.
    In my old village the bus came once a week and took you to the nearest bigger village.
    Services first, then jobs, then houses.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 260.

    In my opinion I'd argue that there isn't really a shortage of housing its more a case of no one can afford to buy houses or even rent houses these days. There needs to be structural reform of the housing market itself. No point building more houses if only a few people can afford them.

    Anyway there are plenty of brownfield sites why not use them first.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 259.

    The problem being is that Joe Public ends up being squeezed into more cramped towns and villages while Lord Helpus with vast areas of land, inaccessible to Mr Public maintains the view from his windows. Perhaps they should build villages on their land in keeping with the manors architectural period and rent homes to Mr and Mrs Needsomestatus.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 258.

    Comment 223. Totally agree and why build more housing. My son has been trying to sell his hse near Leeds for £110,000 very suitable for 1st time buyer yet the government wants to build & then sell for approx £176,000 per house [many are so badly built now] so which will have the smaller mortgage and wont flood? Im sure I dont need to answer but just in case it will be the solid £110,000 one

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 257.

    The talk of simplifying the planning system is just a smokescreen, it doesn't hold. Its the vested interest of the development industry that are hoodwinking us all on this e.g. Making it easier to convert lowcost employment land into housing, hotels, shops will squeeze manufacturers even more and not help the real economy one bit. Australia uses a similar system to the UK, their booming away...

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 256.

    All this will lead to more corruption giving planning permission increase land values greatley more corruption there the whole contry seems to be corrupt today rewriting exam papers because teachers have been told the questions jobs for the boys its all in this country MONEY RULES

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 255.

    250.coram-populo-2010
    2 Minutes ago
    There are thousands of unfinished new build developments all over the UK due to 2008 crash. Why are they not the focus of government policy to be completed?

    This absolutely correct. Why start new developments when there ones crying out to be finished?. Buyers living next to half finished houses.

    We don't need more houses - rather, less people!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 254.

    @240.June
    You don't do irony?
    Yes, Loch Ness is beautiful, as are many other areas in UK (see post #243). However, if land area is needed, there are thousands of acres of non-agriculturally productive land in the North of UK (this can't be allowed to be an English only problem) that could be used to create a new population centre. Let's not be NIMBY.

  • Comment number 253.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 252.

    Loss of view, loss of light, noise from development & property devaluation ARE NOT acceptable reasons to oppose planning under current regulations.

    I wonder how many here complain about too many immigrants yet still have 2 or more offspring - the primary reason for the continued over population of this country - stop having babies on a whim

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 251.

    I listened to the spokesman from the Housebuilders Federation who stated that for the lasst 20 years the default planning status was 'NO' if fact the opposite exists, I sit on a local Parish Planning Committee and during training we were told the default position in 'YES' and only if the application fails the planning rules can it be turned down.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 250.

    There are thousands of unfinished new build developments all over the UK due to 2008 crash. Why are they not the focus of government policy to be completed? In Cambridge it's a joke.

    Supermarkets have huge land banks within, and 'just' outside urban areas. Hmm.

    Millions of empty properties owned by councils, especially in the Midlands, allowed to fall into disrepair and snapped up by landlords.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 249.

    The planning laws are designed to assist developers to make money and place all sorts of obstacles in the way of the individual wanting to make changes or improvements to his or her sole property. I believe in France 'planning permission' is in the hands of the immediate neighbours. If they agree, OK. If they don't, you can't do it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 248.

    @237.ChrisJaehme
    "Planning reform intends increase supply reducing house price inflation"
    House price inflation over the last 30 years was caused by speculation, not because people were buying places to live. To end the speculation you must make the rental market such that large returns cannot be made by buy-to-let, or simply by outlawing buy-to-let mortgages.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 247.

    The whole centre of town where my business is based is a conservation area to preserve architectural interest. Therefore no modern office space can be built. Growth means I am being forced "out of town" as listed medieval and pre 1900 buildings cannot be turned into suitable office space or meet 2011 health & safety or discrimination rules.

 

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