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CPRE Oxfordshire: Reaction to the Queen's Speech

Tuesday, 11 May 2021 13:07

The Queens Speech on May 11th May included a short mention of the progress of the Planning Bill, which follows on from the White Paper of 2020 ‘Planning for the future’ which the Government released in August 2020.

CPRE Oxfordshire will be preparing more detailed briefings and calls to action as appropriate, as more info becomes available. The CPRE Vision for Planning is a national response prepared in consultation with 18 partners, including RSPB and the UK Green Building Council. It calls on the government to deliver a planning system that puts people, climate and nature at its heart. Read more on the National CPRE website.

In the House of Commons the Queen said,

“My Government will help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent. Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward, along with measures to end the practice of ground rents for new leasehold properties [Planning Bill, Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill].”

MPs Briefing Notes for the Queens Speech

The Queen’s Speech 2021 – background briefing notes for MPs had more to say. Read them here.

Comment on the briefing Notes and the proposed Bill

It is interesting that many of the more contentious issues created by this bill were left out of this briefing altogether. The Planning Bill, which will build upon the consultation carried out for the White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ of 2020, is already creating controversy. During the consultation, which ran from August to October 2020 there were over 44,000 responses.

You can read the CPRE response to the White Paper here.

The planning consultation process, which previously allowed residents to have an input into planning decisions of even a single home is to be replaced by a system of allowing consultation at the Local Plan stage but not thereafter.

The reaction by Groups and Organisations throughout the country to the White Paper was of utter dismay with, in particular, the proposal for three zones to dictate the level of local interaction within the new planning process being singled out for particular criticism. The suggested three zones are.

  • growth areas: these are areas where development will be approved at the same time that plans are prepared, resulting in new schools, homes, shops and business space that can be built ‘quickly and efficiently’, as long as local design standards are met.
  • renewal areas: these areas will be suitable for some development, such as covering existing built areas ‘where smaller scale development is appropriate’; and
  • protected areas: these areas will restrict development to protect heritage, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

More recently there has been discussion in the press and elsewhere that perhaps two zones would be proposed in the final Bill. Although the use of planning zones is widespread elsewhere in the world it is not as successful as its proponents would like you to believe, for example the zoning guidance for New York runs to more than 1300 pages.

It is to be expected that the passage of the Bill will be marked by opposition coming from a number of groups, including CPRE. One aspect of the recent local elections in the UK is the rise of the Liberal Democrat and of the Green party vote, both at the expense of established Conservative Councillors. Locally, here in Oxfordshire, the control of the County Council has passed from Conservative control to a partnership between Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green Councillors. The leader of the County Council, Conservative Ian Hudspeth, lost his seat with locals suggesting that his pursuit of Growth Deals, requiring ever larger numbers of additional housing, was part of his fall from favour with the residents.

A factor in the support level for this new Planning Bill may well be the realisation by a number of MPs, especially those in marginal seats and in the South East, that their constituents are not enthusiastic about the continued pursuit of growth in housing. Voting on this Planning Bill might well be on the basis of self-preservation for some MPs.

Some MP comments during the Queens Speech debate

In the Queens Speech debate on 18th May a number of MPs were critical of the Governments approach with the new Planning Bill and this might indicate that, unless changes are made from the White Paper, a smooth passage into law is far from guaranteed.

James Sunderland MP (Con.) began by welcoming the planning bill but went on to say;

“…while there is a clear need for new housing, it needs to be in areas that have the capacity to absorb it. To put it bluntly, it cannot be at the expense of the quality of life that our constituents enjoy, notably in the south-east, and it must not include building on the green belt, eroding what is left of our open spaces or ripping the heart out of our rural communities.”

He went on to say; “Permissions for a further 1 million homes have already been granted* too, so let us do this with a time limit. We also need extra protections for farmland, so let us please impose punitive and progressive taxes on those who seek to build on what is left of it in our constituencies…

we must allow our councils to honour existing local plans and not have extra targets forced upon them. We need to allow them the autonomy to say no and give our communities a proper voice. Democratic consent must therefore be implicit in any new Bill, and it must not become a weapon for the big state.”

Somewhat tellingly James Sunderland also made the point that;

…not only that but we will continue to haemorrhage loyal voters who have simply had enough, as we saw last week in the council elections…”

Laura Trott, Conservative, Sevenoaks

“…Protecting the green belt will be vital in meeting our very ambitious and important targets…”

“… protecting green spaces that local people love..”

“…although we absolutely must and should build, we need to show flexibility so that we protect our green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty…”

Matt Weston MP, opposition whip described the proposed Planning Bill as;

“underpinned by the new planning Bill, which is nothing short of a developer’s charter.”

Abena Oppong-Asare, Shadow Exchequer Secretary

“… the Government are choosing to introduce a planning bill that will take power away from local communities and hinder, not help… efforts to build more social housing…”

Angela Richardson, Conservative, Guildford

“…However, it is important that I take this opportunity to put on record the concerns of my constituents over planning and infrastructure. We need to put in place either penalties or incentive schemes to ensure that developers build out their planning permissions…”

Steve Reed, Shadow Secretary of State Communities and Local Government

“…The Government have trumpeted the proposed planning reform bill as a flagship in their legislative programme, but it is a flagship that may yet be scuppered in the docks, because it is nearly as unpopular on the Government back benches as it is on our side…”

“… the planning reform bill compounds all that with a renewed assault on local democratic control of planning and regeneration, as we have heard from Members on both sides of the chamber this afternoon…”

The Government’s proposals have been criticised by the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, The Royal Institute of British Architects, The Local Government Association, the Countryside Alliance and even the National Trust…”

*A number of speakers made reference to the 1 Million plus permissions granted to developers but not built out.

Further reactions to the proposed bill and to the Bill’s inclusion in the Queens Speech.

The Times reported on May 3rd that the Planning Bill would;

represent the biggest shake-up of England’s planning laws”.

Proposals would “overhaul rules that slow down and obstruct housebuilding and force all councils in England to dedicate land for either development or preservation”.

The Liberal Democrats, in a recent email to supporters makes the point that;

“The Liberal Democrats firmly believe that local voices and community participation are a central part of the planning process, and these proposals plan on excluding those voices at the expense of wealthy developers.”

The Guardian website reports that;

…The councils body the Local Government Information Unit said the changes would “leave local government with the political liability on planning whilst depriving them … of the powers to manage it effectively…”

And the Guardian report added;

“…Fiona Howie, the chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said: “It is disappointing that the government’s narrative has focused, once again, solely on housing numbers. If we are truly committed to building back better, we need the built environment to support communities to thrive…”

The Oxfordshire Neighbourhood Plans Association suggested that;

To us at ONPA, the idea that all land can be zoned into just two categories is not only a gross oversimplification of what should be a finely-tuned system that recognises local differences, but is also a betrayal of localism. Local communities will be disenfranchised by the proposed new legislation, which will deny us the opportunity to comment on, object to, or indeed support development proposals in “growth” areas.

On May 11th The Guardian website suggested that;

A dramatic loosening of planning laws to create a housebuilding boom will damage local democracy and destroy swathes of countryside by granting property developers a freer hand to build over green fields…”

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