Cross-party councillors in agreement on response to planning system overhaul
18 November 2020
27 October 2020
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councillors are united in their response to the Government’s Planning for the Future consultation – insisting that proposals must not be at the detriment of local communities and should not lose focus on the challenges facing rural districts.
At last month’s annual council meetings, councillors voted in favour of a cross-party response to two Government consultation papers outlining major changes in planning. Both councils submitted their feedback on proposed short-term amendments to the current planning system shortly afterwards.
Since then, councillors have extensively examined and discussed the second consultation – a White Paper on a new national planning system. The councils are now submitting their response, and residents can also have their say, with just a few days remaining to give the Government their views before the consultation window closes on Thursday (October 29).
The significant changes proposed aim to modernise the current planning system and get Britain building – and the councils acknowledge the White Paper’s intentions for increased community engagement, whilst also securing the delivery of homes and infrastructure that can meet a wide range of needs.
Included in the suggested overhaul are changes to the way local housing plans are developed and an agreement to shorten the current timescale for this, which on average takes around seven years, to two-and-a-half years. Although both councils are in agreement that COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a flexible planning system, which can quickly adapt to changing economic circumstances, this must not be at the expense of local communities and should carefully manage future growth in our rural areas.
Any simplification of the local plan process must give local planning authorities the scope to tailor development management policies – enabling our councils to decide on what is classed as appropriate development, in order to safeguard our countryside, market towns, villages and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Proposals in the White Paper also suggest the introduction of a simplified zoning system to replace the current national planning process, although how this will be done in practice has not yet been made clear. Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils do, however, support the aim for speedier and more certain decision-making, believing the key to this is a greater focus on pre-application working – including the implementation of Planning Performance agreements, used to agree timescales, actions and resources needed for larger or potentially controversial applications.
One element of the overhaul on which councillors do not agree with the Government is the suggestion that planning will be fast tracked for beautiful buildings. Given the varied landscape in England, where one road can be totally different in character to the next, it is not felt that something as subjective as beauty should be decided on by national Government policy.
A similar viewpoint applies to plans for local design guidance to be established, with a textbook approach and allowing approval through permitted development potentially putting both districts at risk of generic, ill thought-out and poor quality development.
These concerns, along with others raised by officers and all political parties from both councils, have been highlighted in a 40-page response to the Government’s overhaul of the planning system. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will seek to bring forward legislation and policy changes to implement their reforms.
Councillor Clive Arthey, Babergh District Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning, said:
“Our councils agree with the aim of the Government’s proposed planning system overhaul in principle, as we recognise the requirement to get the country building again to provide homes and employment in our districts at a time when this is needed more than ever.
“However, we do share serious concerns about the delivery of a simplified system, with our consultation response reflecting that this must not be at the detriment of our communities, rural landscape and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“I welcome the cross-party discussions with my fellow councillors – and I hope that our response, along with the views of Babergh residents who participate in the consultation, are taken into account to by Government.”
Councillor David Burn, Mid Suffolk District Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning said:
“Mid Suffolk District Council wants to ensure that the right homes are built in the right places and the government’s proposals do not wholly support this ambition. While a flexible planning system is welcome, a one size fits all textbook approach is not.
“I would like to thank my fellow councillors from all political parties, and the officers who have supported us, for the extensive time spent examining the proposed changes and preparing a response to this. I would now urge residents and local groups to join us in responding directly to the consultation before a final decision is made.
“These cross-party meetings have also enabled us to identify our future priorities for planning in our districts, which include well-designed new homes to meet the identified needs of our population, environment and biodiversity mitigation measures, and development that supports the local economy while delivering better local infrastructure.”
Residents have until 29 October to share their views on the consultation for long term changes to the national planning system.