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Dorset CPRE Slams Government Planning Reforms

View of proposed site land North of Dorchester View of proposed site land North of Dorchester © Rupert Hardy

14th May 2021

Queen’s Speech Planning Reforms. The government has dismayed many around the country by announcing, in the Queen's Speech, its controversial plans to radically alter many decades of planning practice ..

The government has dismayed many around the country by announcing, in the Queen's Speech, its controversial plans to radically alter many decades of planning practice, by seizing control of the planning system, forcing councils to create an undemocratic system of 'zoning' often seen in the USA and elsewhere. The government has asserted that its reforms would speed up and simplify the process of preparing local plans, so that they will take a maximum of 30 months from start to finish. Peter Bowyer, Chair of Dorset CPRE Trustees, said: “The Prime Minister has called for a levelling up in this country, but these so-called reforms will dumb down our planning system, taking Dorset back to the Planning Dark Ages, with the potential to permit development that would scar the landscape of our beautiful county, do little for the environment and obstruct the provision of affordable housing for local people.”

Zonal Planning
The government said that there would be three different types of zones:
1 Growth areas: Land within 'growth areas' would be deemed to have automatic outline permission for the principle of development. Full permission would then be secured by the process of a reserved matter to agree on outstanding issues.

2 Renewal areas: There would be a statutory presumption of development in these areas. Applications for full permission would be fast-tracked through the process if the scheme met design and other prior approval requirements.

3 Protected areas: Development of land in protected areas would require a full application in line with the current process, but there would still not be an absolute prohibition of development.

Central Housing Need
The government would impose nationally determined targets for housing need, ousting an evidenced based system in favour of a centrally determined policy system.

Key Criticisms of Planning Reforms
Dorset CPRE is extremely critical of these so-called reforms because:

  • There are according to the Local Government Association one million-plus building plots, for which there are already planning permissions, but these consents have never been implemented because they are being ‘hoarded’ by developers. So, it is clear, that the government has come up with this damaging suite of solutions for a non-existent problem.
  • Nothing has been said in the consultation about the provision of affordable homes, so by giving automatic planning permissions, how will affordable homes be provided?
  • There is no account taken of the changes to employment practices resulting from both the pandemic and the new technologies which facilitate decentralised working.
  • There are many examples where developers have failed to build homes of reasonable quality, or have ignored planning obligations and/or planning consent conditions to the detriment of local people, so how can it be equitable, fair, or sensible, to tip the balance in the housing market even further in favour of some rapacious developers?
  • The creation of crudely drawn planning zones would be highly damaging in a county like Dorset, the vast majority of which already comprises sensitive areas like Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and SSIs.
  • Democratically elected local councils will be severely emasculated in terms of their control over development in their local areas, even though they and local people, are best placed to decide local plans, not a remote central government.
  • The investment that many local councils have made in producing Neighbourhood Plans with the aim of giving them control over unwanted development will be wasted.
  • The Planning Bill conflicts with the government's stated environmental agenda and fails to fully recognise the importance of climate change.

There are many other difficult questions still to be answered in respect of the workability of these reforms.


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