Councillors from all parties criticise government’s new planning proposals

The Government is consulting on a host of proposals to change the planning system in the country.The Government is consulting on a host of proposals to change the planning system in the country.
The Government is consulting on a host of proposals to change the planning system in the country.
Councillors from all parties across West Northamptonshire have criticised new proposals from the Government to overhaul the planning system.

On Monday (September 14), there was cross-party agreement at Northampton Borough Council to raise objections to the plans, while discontent was also shown at a meeting of the shadow council of the new West Northamptonshire unitary on Tuesday.

Proposing a motion for the borough council to oppose the plans, Labour councillor Enam Haque said: “It’s so important to raise our concern. This change will affect every one of our constituents no matter where they are. It will change our power to shape our town and commercial areas, and will change our power to control and shape out of town developments.”

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A similar motion from Liberal Democrat councillor Brian Markham was also passed, having been amended by the Conservative deputy cabinet member for planning Councillor James Hill.

Councillor Hill’s amendments noted that the Local Government Association has raised concerns regarding how it may restrict the decision making that local authorities have in future planning applications and developments.

Some of the larger proposals which are featured in the Government’s ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper include splitting land into three categories – ‘growth’ areas suitable for substantial development; ‘renewal’ areas suitable for development; and areas that are ‘protected’.

One of the more controversial proposals would see areas identified as ‘growth’ areas for substantial development being automatically granted outline planning permission for the principle of development – effectively negating the need for a debate on whether the principle of a specific type of development should be allowed.

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There are also plans to introduce a new set rate ‘community levy’ for developer contributions towards infrastructure, with this replacing the current section 106 agreements that are currently negotiated between councils and developers.

Councillor Hill said: “I’m really pleased to see these motions and there’s cross-party support here. There’s a common myth in planning that councils stand in the way of development, and actually we know that councils approve nine out of ten planning applications. A lot of the time developers are the cause of the delay.

“I don’t believe these changes will allow more houses to be built. All they will do is take power away from local councils and therefore local people, in terms of consultation and things like that.”

The Conservative chairman of the borough council’s planning committee, Councillor Brian Oldham, also raised concerns, saying: “The planning system is made to look as if it’s a bit of a villain. I know the planning system is not perfect, but it’s more of a victim than being the villain.

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“This is a developer’s charter. It’s going to have an effect on budgeting where applications are no longer required then the authorities will lose the fee. We’re all upset that we don’t have much influence on section 106 funds, but it will be even less with this national levy.”

After seeing his motion accepted on Monday at Northampton Borough, Lib Dem councillor Brian Markham also raised concerns the next evening at the West Northants Shadow Authority – which is effectively the precursor to the new unitary council that will come into force next April.

He said: “The Royal Institute for British Architects called the proposals shameful and suggested that it will do almost nothing to guarantee delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes. RIBA also said that proposals could lead to the next generation of slum housing."

Fellow Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Harris, who represents Brixworth on Daventry District Council as well as the shadow authority, added: “The Government’s plan is that new developments of up to 50 homes may no longer have to provide any affordable housing. This will further reduce the number of affordable homes being built. These proposals are an attack on localism and will deny people the chance to have their say on local development.

“What we actually need is an urgent house building programme of environmentally friendly social homes for rent. This is one of the pragmatic ways we can tackle the housing crisis head-on.”

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