Tories want to take away your right to have a say on local planning decisions
Tories want to take away your right to have a say on local planning decisions

St Helens Labour councillors last night proposed and passed unanimously a motion against the Tory government’s dangerous proposals to centralise the planning process.

Cllr Richard McCauley, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning, who proposed the motion, says: “The proposed developers charter that the government want to bring in will do nothing to fix the problems in the Planning System. Local authorities and their residents are best placed to make decisions on housing, employment and infrastructure needs of an area, not faceless bureaucrats in Whitehall.”

Cllr Derek Long, Chair of the Planning Committee and West Park ward councillor, seconded the motion. He says: “The Government’s proposals are bad news for West Park and the Borough. We need £100 million to decontaminate our brownfields for new housing, not Whitehall further squeezing local choice out of planning decisions.”

The full motion reads: 

On 6th August 2020, the Housing Secretary published a White Paper on ‘Planning for the
Future’ which outlines major changes to the current planning system including a new way of
categorising land into three types; as Growth areas which would have planning permission in
principle, as Renewal areas which would need further permissions and as Protected areas.
St. Helens Borough Council is concerned that the Government proposals will seek to:
 Reduce or remove the right of residents to object to applications near to them
 Grant automatic rights for developers to build on land identified as ‘for growth’
 Remove section 106/Community Infrastructure Levy (“CIL”) payments for
infrastructure and their replacement with a national levy
 Potentially remove control over development on land identified as ‘renewal’ from the
local authority in favour of national guidance.
St Helens Council believes that planning works best when developers and the local
community work together to shape local areas and deliver necessary new homes and
employment sites.
The Council calls on our local MPs to lobby the Housing Minister to discard his proposed
changes to the planning system and listen to the House of Commons, LGA, local Councils,
professional bodies, wildlife and environmental organisations and communities to protect the
rights of local people to retain a voice over what happens in their local area.

In proposing the motion, Councillor McCauley said:

As members will realise especially those on Planning Committee there are real problems with the current planning system and they do need to be addressed. As a country we are not building the number of new homes our residents need. The last Labour Government increased home ownership by 1 million people. The current Conservative Government, sadly, have reduced it by 800,000 and they have cut the amount of social housing being built by 80%. However, the problem with getting homes built is not the planning process as the government would have you believe – it is developers who do not build the homes once they have consent. The Government are refusing to tackle the real problem. Nine in 10 planning applications according to the Conservative-led Local Government Association, over 1.1 million homes that received consent in the past decade have still not been built, which is over half of all homes approved by council planning departments.

The reality is that currently the planning process is not a very democratic one; it is a legal one. However, this situation is due to become far, far worse with the proposed changes, the Government will be ripping out the only democratic element of the planning process left where residents can have their say and Cllrs have a little wiggle room. The proposals put forward by the government are nothing short of a developers’ charter. Bureaucrats in Westminster will decide on applications not local people they say that we are just red tape that gets in the way of development

There’s certainly no red tape holding things up in St.Helens.

  • Our own Planning department are top quartile in determining decisions on time. Planning statistics published by the government demonstrate that the St Helens Council Planning Service has determined 100% of major and non-major applications within the statutory or agreed timescale during 2019 and 2020.
  • It is also of note that during 2020, 96% of applications were granted permission
  • The statistics demonstrate that during 2020 the St. Helens Planning Service was the highest performing service in the Liverpool City Region for both the percentage of applications granted and decided on time.
  • In terms of the quality of decisions, there were also no appeals on major planning applications in the last two years and only 0.3% of the Council appeal decisions on non-major applications were overturned at appeal.

These statistics demonstrate that when applied by high-quality Councils like St. Helens, the current planning system can process applications appropriately and efficiently in support of development without impacting on the rights of local people to retain their voice of what happens in their local area.

I wonder if its a coincidence that since the  Prime Minister became leader of the Conservative party, donations to the Tories from developers have increased by 400%. With these proposals, are the Tories  paying them back by selling out our communities? Ill let you draw your own conclusions but some of those developers have even seen their individual planning applications personally approved against the advice of the planning inspectorate.

Planning needs to go much further as it has a vital role to play in our response to the climate emergency, both in achieving net zero and in adapting to climate change which is already happening. It is critical in delivering the homes we need to end the housing crisis, and in delivering the infrastructure and services to support new residents. It is vital for economic development and the delivery of green jobs. At its most basic level, planning should be a framework for fairness. It should ensure that new development delivers what communities need, not what makes the most profit, and it should safeguard the things that they hold most dear.

There is no doubt that our planning system is in need of reform as I said earlier,  but the government’s current proposals takes entirely the wrong approach. Locking communities and local councillors out of planning decisions on individual applications will not deliver more homes, better design, or zero-carbon development. It will create a developers’ charter for identikit places. Deregulating the planning system by expanding permitted development rights will mean that instead of protecting character and quality in our town and city centres they will be eroded, as shopping streets are pepper-potted with homes, and roofscapes become a mess of ad hoc two-storey extensions.

Instead of treating the planning system as inconvenient red tape to be swept away as much as possible, the Government should be seeking to make it fit for purpose for the challenges of the 21st century. From 2010, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government embarked on a bonfire of planning regulations, which removed many of the design standards intended to ensure low-carbon development, including the zero-carbon homes programme. That has resulted in more than a decade of lost time to deliver net zero, a decade in which new homes have continued to be built, which will now need to be retrofitted in the future when they could have been built to zero-carbon standards in the first place. The Government have been utterly negligent on low-carbon building, and making the superficial and subjective concept of beauty the core principle of their planning policy will do little to address that.

Another problems that needs addressing is land banking. That is where a developer gets approval for an application to build new homes, but instead of building, waits for land values to rise so they can sell it on without having laid a single brick. Instead of a planning regulation  that does nothing about this, we need new measures that incentivise developers to get these shovel-ready homes built more quickly, and yet the Government have done and said nothing at all about this

Planning works best when it is a partnership as we have tried to nurture here,  We need the right number and types of homes for our residents, we need investment and new jobs, but just leaving delivery to the market will not foster partnership working and will fundamentally fail to meet people’s needs. With the brownfield remediation fund devastated by the Tories and Lib Dems  and a soft-touch approach to land banking and speculation, the inevitable consequences of this policy will be a further loss of valued green spaces right across the country without the correct infrastructure and no local voices being heard in the process.

In the short time that is left available to me, I urge the Government to think again, ask our two MPs to lobby hard,  vote well,  and place true local decision making and people at the heart of the planning process, zero carbon and genuinely affordable homes as the key priority for delivery, and to take action on land reform.   

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