Oxford City Council and CPRE Oxfordshire come together to condemn Government’s planning proposals as “anti-democratic”

Hulton Park

8th October 2020

The Government has drafted a Planning White Paper, known as Planning for the future, that it claims will “radically reform” the planning system to make it “simpler, faster and more predictable”.

The Royal Institute of British Architects said the White Paper could create “the next generation of slum housing”, the Town and Country Planning Association said the proposals were disruptive and rushed, and the charity Shelter said social housing “could face extinction” under the plans.

A survey of Conservative councillors across the country found that six out of 10 believe the reforms will make planning less democratic.

The implications of the Planning for the future White Paper include:

·       Rushed Local Plans: Councils will have less time to consult on and produce Local Plans, making it more difficult for local people to influence them.

·       Reduced consultation with local residents: most consultation about developments currently happens on individual planning applications, but the White Paper proposes automatic approvals for most applications.

·       Increased centralisation: instead of reflecting local priorities, crucial policies like housing numbers and environmental standards will imposed from Whitehall

·       Inappropriate zonal planning: Rather than a detailed assessment of local needs, the White Paper will require Councils to zone their areas as one of only three options, with none of the ‘fine-grain’ planning needed to protect communities from inappropriate development.

The overall impact of the proposals is local people and locally elected representatives having much less say in what happens to their areas. Instead decisions will be taken remotely in Whitehall.

Where Councils like Oxford City Council have higher targets for environmental standards, these will be scrapped and replaced by centrally dictated lowest common denominators – for example the target of 2030 for all new homes in the city to be zero carbon will be pushed back by 20 years to 2050, despite that policy being strongly supported locally.

The City Council and CPRE Oxfordshire have found common ground in opposing the proposals in the White Paper.

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, the City Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Delivery, said:
“The current planning system strikes a balance between the rights of individual landowners and the rights of past, present and future citizens. The Government’s Planning White Paper sets out to destroy that balance. The Town and Country Planning Association say ‘the proposals will undermine local democracy and fail to achieve the kind of high-quality places that the government is committed to delivering’. Oxford City Council agrees. The basis for the proposed ‘reforms’ is the claim that the planning system holds up development; this is demonstrably false. More than one million homes with planning permission have not been built, and more than 90% of planning applications are approved. The failure to build new housing across the country is not a result of the planning system, but of market failure and above all the failure to invest in social housing. Oxford and Oxfordshire does not need attacks on the planning system and local democracy; what it needs is a mass programme of social housing to provide affordable, secure and decent homes for all our citizens.

Helen Marshall, Director of CPRE Oxfordshire, said:
“The changes the Government intends to impose would be fundamentally anti-democratic and harmful to our countryside as well as urban areas. It is essential that planning should be done at the most local level possible, especially on housing numbers, allowing local people to have control over both the quantity and quality of development and to hold their locally elected representatives to account. That’s the only way to develop real communities, with the right housing in the right place and ensuring a proper balance between development and protecting the countryside.