It has been reported in The Times this morning (Saturday, September 11) that the government is planning to abandon substantial parts of its planning proposals, including the zonal planning system. If correct, this will be a huge win for the CPRE planning campaign, so fingers crossed! Commenting on the reported rethink of the planning proposals, Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The devil will be in the detail, but it looks as though some of the most damaging proposals of what was a top-down developers’ charter have been rightly binned. However, the government must not shy away from overhauling a tired planning system to make it fit for the multiple challenges of the 21st century. “Local communities need a stronger right to be heard in local decisions; brownfield sites must automatically be developed first to help protect local green spaces and our Green Belts in the fight against climate change; and young people and key workers desperately need more funding for rural affordable homes. “Positive changes to the planning system are long overdue – in future it is vital local communities are empowered to protect their precious green spaces while delivering the affordable homes they desperately need and, at the same time, responding to the climate emergency by regenerating the countryside. “This decision by ministers is a victory for common sense and local campaigners all across the country who just wanted a proper say on the needs of their communities and how their area should be developed. “We look forward to working with the government on creating a planning system that puts the needs of local communities ahead of developers’ profits.”
CPRE Kent is dismayed to learn of a decision by Maidstone Borough Council officers, outside the scrutiny of elected councillors, that results in a loss of £469,000 necessary infrastructure funding promised to a local community. The story began when MBC approved the building of 53 houses on the non-allocated greenfield site of Loder Close, Lenham, back in 2019. Concerns were raised at the time by the county council and residents that this development would place unfunded pressures on local infrastructure. These concerns were dismissed, with elected councillors being promised within the cabinet report that the development “will provide reasonable and appropriate contribution to other infrastructure by CIL payments”. Except it turns out this advice was wrong. Fast-forward to March 2021 and, after a change of developer, the plan had now changed, with more affordable housing being provided. The new developer asked MBC whether it would require a new planning application. Amazingly, it was told it did not. This is amazing is because it exempts the developer from making any infrastructure payments. This includes £159,00 the county council said was required for additional primary-school places and £197,000 it has identified as necessary for new secondary-school places, as well as contributions towards community learning, youth services, the library and social services. This included up to £50,000 that would have otherwise come to the local parish to spend on a much-needed and now-delayed pre-school. While CPRE Kent clearly supports the need for genuine affordable housing, we ask ‘Won’t those future occupiers also require doctors, school places and other community facilities?’. With the rights and the wrongs of this decision remaining open to debate, CPRE Kent is heartened to see Lenham Parish Council continuing to challenge MBC on this. There is, however, a much wider picture to be addressed. That is development being forced on communities without the necessary community infrastructure being secured or provided. That is plans being changed that clearly impact on communities, though without further democratic input being sought from that community. That is the fact that current rules allow for any type of residential development being approved without having to make a fair contribution towards already overstretched community facilities. Overall, Loder Close represents a clear example of why communities do not trust developers or councils when they promise future infrastructure impacts will be “mitigated”.
The deadline for comments on Canterbury City Council’s public consultation on its preferred option for its new Local Plan closes at 9am on Monday, August 9. The deadline has been extended by a week in response to glitches with the council’s online consultation portal. CPRE Kent has submitted comments on behalf of its members objecting to the council’s preferred option of building 14,000-17,000 homes – which is 8,000 more than required under the government’s standard methodology for calculating housing numbers, for the period to 2040. We have advised the council that a careful balance needs to be struck between taking economic advantage of Canterbury’s heritage and undermining it with too much and with inappropriately sited development. Unfortunately, like many of the residents in the Canterbury area, we have had difficulty interpreting the full implications of the council’s development proposals. The written summary details for the preferred option makes no reference to the provision of the proposed two new roads/bypasses – to the north-west and south-east of the city – referring obliquely to “upgrade of the A28 to allow traffic to bypass the city centre” instead. CPRE Kent has questioned whether addressing congestion and pollution on the ring road by building a pair of bypasses will be effective – bearing in mind that it would appear that a high proportion of this traffic is generated by local people travelling into Canterbury for work, leisure, shopping and education. Building up to 8,000 more dwellings than required to fund a roadbuilding programme to bypass the city centre will, CPRE Kent believes, place undue burden on local communities, the countryside setting of Canterbury, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and surrounding Areas of High Landscape Value. We have pointed out to the council that development to this degree would have an adverse impact on dark skies, tranquillity and best and most versatile agricultural land – which has a vital role to play in absorbing carbon and preserving biodiversity, including the biodiversity in soils. Once it is built over, soil biodiversity is lost. Sadly, the council seems to have cornered itself into a position whereby 20th-century solutions are being applied to 21st-century issues.
To learn more and contribute to Canterbury City Council’s consultation on the Local Plan, click here
To read more about development pressure and planning in Canterbury, click here
A revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework has been published this month (July) – see here. The new incarnation follows this year’s consultation, which focused primarily on incorporating design codes and building-beautiful recommendations. The full government consultation response can be found here, while the original comments made by CPRE to the consultation are here. The changes are largely incremental and as anticipated though are to be formally applied from the date of publication (Tuesday, July 20) for both Local Plans not yet at examination and planning decisions. For immediate practical purposes, all paragraph numbers from paragraph 53 onwards have now changed – here is a tracked versionillustrating the differences between the February 2019 version of the NPPF and this latest edition.
A consultation on Thanet District Council’s Statement of Community Involvement closed last week – and CPRE Kent is less than impressed. A Statement of Community Involvement sets out how a council intends to engage the local community and others in planning matters. It is an important document that should help ensure that planning process is fair, open and accessible to all. Or not, in the case of Thanet. While CPRE Kent made several comments on the detail of the document, it is TDC’s intention to charge a fee to process public comments that it deems long and complex that has caused us most concern. Not only do we question the lawfulness of this, but we also point out that it is undemocratic and potentially discriminatory. We have called for this proposal to be removed from the document. If it is to remain, as a minimum we have asked for the basis on which the charge is deemed lawful to be reported back to members. The outcome of the consultation, along with any resulting changes, will shortly be reported back to Thanet council members before formal adoption. We will be watching the response very closely.
The Covid-19 crisis has curtailed public involvement in almost all aspects of life, so it is important for us all to see that fairness and the democratic process do not suffer as a result, as a CPRE planner explains…
Are you still getting your say at planning committee? Since Saturday, April 4, 2020, councils have been able to hold public meetings virtually – using video or telephone conferencing technology – hence removing the requirement for physical attendance at meetings. The decision was announced by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to in a bid to ensure effective local decision-making and transparency during the coronavirus pandemic. Did you know that not all planning (and other) applications must go before councillors at a committee meeting? Under the 1972 Local Government Act, local planning authorities can discharge some decision-making to an officer – in the case of planning applications this is what is commonly known as a delegated decision. Planning permission can still be granted (or refused) for individual schemes. The only difference is that, compared with a committee decision, the process is faster because there is no need to wait until the next planning committee comes round. As it is up to individual councils to draw up their own delegation scheme, decisions that can be delegated in one authority may not in another. Unless a local planning authority has changed its delegated scheme, all planning decisions that would normally have gone to a planning committee continue to do so. While the decision-making format will not have changed, it is possible that meetings may have been cancelled in the early days while councils made the necessary arrangements to move committee meetings online. It might not be the same for all councils, but I know one Kent authority minutes at the beginning of each session that meetings are being conducted in accordance with the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panel (Coronavirus) Flexibility of Local Authority Police and Crime Panel Meetings (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 No. 392. And that in welcoming councillors and members of the public the chairman states which council officers are in attendance. The procedure for my local council is that members of the public are advised in the normal way of the committee date for schemes in which they are interested. As usual, the procedure for speaking at committee is explained. In accordance with the regulations, interested parties are invited to dial in to the meeting and, where pre-arranged, get to speak for their allotted time. In addition, participants are asked to provide a written copy of the statement they wish to make so that in the event of technical difficulties their views can be read out. At this specific council, members of the public can not actually see what is going on at the meeting (they dial in by phone). Any papers that are likely to be viewed by councillors at the meeting are added to the council’s website in advance. Audio recordings of the meetings held are posted on the council’s website within 10 days of the meeting.
CPRE Kent and others have raised deep concerns regarding the lack of consultation undertaken by Swale Borough Council on its Local Plan. We therefore welcome the recommendation to councillors to extend the current consultation until Friday, April 30. This is to be considered by all council members tomorrow evening (Wednesday, February 24). However, as it stands, there is no formal requirement for the outcome of the consultation to be reported to councillors prior to the Plan being submitted for independent examination. This is why we have today written to Swale councillors urging they consider the consultation responses before making a final decision that the Plan is ready for formal submission. In the report to members accompanying tomorrow evening’s recommendation, Swale describes itself as a listening council. This simple positive step is the least that they can do to demonstrate this.
Richard Thompson, CPRE Kent planner, shows how developers benefit from their own failure to build houses while our communities lose ever more green space
While the Housing Delivery Test might seem a dull and dry topic, often buried in the darkest, deepest recesses of a council’s website, its consequences should not be ignored. When CPRE Kent reported on the 2019 Housing Delivery Test results, it was a bleak picture. Well, last month the 2020 Housing Delivery Test results were published. And the situation for Kent has worsened yet further. The test works by comparing how many homes have been built in each council district against how many homes the district is deemed to have needed over a three-year period (though reduced this year for a month to allow for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic). These homes-needed figures will either come from a council’s Local Plan if it was adopted within the last five years or, more commonly for Kent, be based on the government’s ‘top-down’ standard method formula for calculating housing numbers. If at least 95 per cent of the homes deemed needed have been built within a council’s district over that period, the council is regarded as having passed the test. More than 85 per cent though less than 95 per cent, the council is put on the naughty step and has to write an ‘action plan’ in which it promises to try harder. If less than 85 per cent though more than 75 per cent, the consequences become serious as an extra 20 per cent is added to the number of homes that will need to be built in that district. This makes it increasingly hard for councils to demonstrate they have a five-year supply of houses – and where a council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply it becomes subject to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. If fewer than 75 per cent of homes deemed needed have been built, that council area automatically becomes subject to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. This means that if a site can be considered to deliver ‘sustainable development’, then planning permission should be granted, even if there is no support from the council for housing in that location or the site sits outside the Local Plan. As set out in the table below, the combination of the 2020 Housing Delivery Test results and accepted lack of five-year supply by councils now means the majority of Kent is subject to the presumption. Further, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe are all in precarious positions should developers seek to challenge the five-year supply position (note that both Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells only just avoided falling into the 20 per cent buffer requirement because of the Covid adjustment).
What does this mean in practice? Only that the majority of Kent is now at increased risk of speculative planning applications for developer-led interpretations of ‘sustainable development’. CPRE Kent has long campaigned that the standard method for calculating the number of homes is a blunt instrument that fails to recognise local constraints and actual housing needs. Yet the revision made to the standard method in December 2020 is likely to further increase pressure on Kent to take some of London’s deemed increase in housing need. It is also our view that the Housing Delivery Test and five-year supply requirements are fundamentally flawed. The reality is that the supply of homes is all but controlled by the housebuilders, who clearly will only build what the local market will absorb. Yet if this building rate falls below these unreasonable targets, often the only response a local authority can have is to grant yet more planning permissions or allocate yet more land for increasingly unsustainable development. And so the cycle continues. Or, put another way, while the development industry is rewarded for failure to build houses with an increasing suite of sites where ever-greater profits may be made, communities suffer the real-world consequences of yet more precious green spaces being allocated for development.
Almost 1,100 homes will be built on the outskirts of Canterbury after councillors made a U-turn from their previous decision. The city council’s planning committee had in November refused a scheme for 650 new homes in Sturry, a decision that sparked the withdrawal of a linked application, for 456 properties at neighbouring Broad Oak. Last night (Tuesday, February 9), however, both schemes, which comprise one strategic site, came back to the committee, which at its ‘virtual’ meeting approved them by seven votes to five. The Sturry plan had been marginally revised, the number of properties being cut by 20 homes to 630. A new primary school and – perhaps critically – funding towards a Sturry relief road were part of the wider package. Planning officers said earlier reasons for refusal, including concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design, had all been tackled. CPRE Kent had objected to both proposals, along with many others, including Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, the Woodland Trust and Sturry Parish Council. The Sturry development won outline permission only, while the Broad Oak element’s 456 properties were given full permission. More than 800 square metres of commercial space at Broad Oak won outline permission. CPRE Kent has been working on the proposals with Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, which gave the following reaction to the Canterbury City Council verdict: “We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the planning committee to push through this deeply flawed application for hundreds of houses on the edge of the city. “The committee’s justified concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design all cited in November’s decision to refuse the application are still just as relevant. “Issues with planning law have not been addressed, while the developer’s slight reduction in the number of properties does not change the fact that the Environ Design (Sturry) scheme remains wholly unacceptable. “We believe it has been accepted because of council fears that SELEP [South East Local Enterprise Partnership] funding for a related Sturry relief road would be lost if it were not approved by SELEP’s mid-February deadline. “The new road is not even about relieving traffic at the Sturry level crossing – rather it is about opening up potential housing sites for miles to the east of the city. The resultant urban sprawl does not bear thinking about. “Additionally, the new road, which will run through the middle of the estate, will do little more than shift traffic congestion a mile or two down the A28 towards Canterbury. “We are concerned for the residents living in the new estate who will have to endure an extremely busy road effectively on their doorsteps – traffic will have to include the transfer of sewage from the tank built to deal with its waste. “Such issues alone could make the new properties close to unsaleable anyway, while potential new residents might also notice the lack of any playing fields and the fact that the suggested tiny community hall sits on a roundabout, making it effectively inaccessible. “There are serious concerns for neighbouring Den Grove Wood, where the council has not heeded or acted on Natural England’s standing advice for ancient woodland. “We have never denied the need for new housing in our city, but we should be pressing for the highest of standards – not the lowest, which is what this scheme represents. “The level of mitigation work necessary to address the damage caused by it will blight the area for years. Its acceptance is a depressingly stark example of how strategic planning should not be done.”
The government should rethink substantial elements of its controversial planning proposals and work with stakeholders to deliver a planning system that puts people, climate and nature at its heart. The call comes from CPRE, the countryside charity, as part of a broad coalition of 18 environmental, housing, planning, transport, heritage and public-health organisations that have worked together to forge their own alternative ‘Vision for Planning’ in response to the government’s Planning White Paper, published in August last year. The government is expected to make a further announcement in March about whether and how it will take forward the proposals in the White Paper. The joint Vision for Planning was launched yesterday (Friday, January 15) at a virtual debate, with speakers including Chris Pincher, Minister of State for Housing. Commenting on the new joint ‘Vision for planning’, Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “We are calling on the government to plan back better and work with us to develop a planning system that puts people, and tackling the climate and ecological emergencies, at its heart. “We all deserve a home we can genuinely afford to live in, and to have a say in shaping the communities around us. And for over 70 years, a toolbox has been in place to make sure that can happen: the planning system. But as things stand, under the government’s current proposals, the opportunity to influence what happens and where in our communities would be halved. “Before Christmas, the government announced a welcome revision of its housing numbers ‘algorithm’. However, this was only one small part of a range of potentially damaging proposals put forward by the government last year. That’s why we’re calling on ministers to take an equally pragmatic approach to improving policies relating to community voice, affordable homes and access to green spaces. Together, we can develop a planning system fit for the 21st century.” Julie Hirigoyen, UK Green Building Council chief executive, added: “The government’s proposed planning reforms do not adequately reflect the important role of the planning system as a key strategic vehicle for decarbonising the economy, enhancing climate resilience and reversing biodiversity decline. “If we are to deliver new development that does not compromise our progress towards net zero, the planning system – as outlined in this vision paper – must ensure all new buildings are net-zero by 2030 at the latest, with new homes to be net-zero as soon as possible.” Emma Marsh, director of RSPB England, concurred: “Nature is in freefall decline and we have a climate in crisis. Our wildlife is declining at an alarming rate, with much-loved species at risk of extinction if things continue. “A good planning system is critical not just for providing us with homes with access to nature-rich greenspace and the other services that we need but also for ensuring that our amazing nature is protected and given the space that it needs to recover and thrive again.” The message was echoed by Shaun Spiers, chief executive of Green Alliance: “For a resilient society, we need environmental and climate priorities to be right at the heart of our planning system, so we hope the government takes careful note of this coalition’s recommendations. “To cut pollution and climate impacts, reforms to the planning system must ensure that every home has easy access, via public transport, walking and cycling, to amenities, green spaces and local workplaces. Good spatial planning will be integral to the UK meeting its net-zero carbon goal by 2050.”
To learn more about the joint Vision for Planning, click here
For more on the government’s proposed changes to the planning system and our response to them, see here, here, here and here
CPRE, the countryside charity, and Friends of the Earth are joining more than 2,000 local councillors to call on the government to rethink its planning proposals and work with locally-elected representatives to create the places and homes communities so desperately needed. A total of 2,062 local councillors have called on the government to abandon the most damaging elements of its changes to the planning system in an open letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. More than 350 of the councillors, or one in six of those who signed the letter, are Conservatives, which shows the breadth of opposition to the damaging changes within the Conservative Party itself. In the letter, councillors warn that the proposed changes to planning will undermine the trust the public has in the planning system and “could radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change”. Local democracy is a major concern for the signatories, with the proposals as they stand leading to “an unacceptable loss of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability and worse outcomes for communities”. The letter goes on to highlight the need for a strong local planning system to support sustainable development, community cohesion and a healthy environment but highlights that the government’s proposals as currently set out “will not achieve these goals”. Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: “The message from MPs, communities and now more than 2,000 councillors is clear, but it is not too late for the government to rethink its controversial upheaval of the planning system. “Planning done well can create the affordable and well-designed homes that communities are crying out for. We can create low-carbon and nature-friendly homes, with an abundance of green space on their doorsteps, all connected by low-carbon public transport. “Investing in a locally-led democratic planning system that empowers local councils to create these places should be the government’s top priority. “We stand with these councillors in urging ministers to work with us to develop and deliver a better set of planning reforms that can actually deliver our country’s environmental, economic and social objectives.” The government’s proposed changes to the planning system would be the biggest change to the planning system since the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947. But the proposals put forward by ministers have already faced fierce opposition from local councillors, communities, MPs, former cabinet ministers and even the former Prime Minister, Theresa May. A recent poll off Conservative backbench MPs, conducted by Savanta Comres, also found that more than half of Conservative MPs (55 per cent) on the backbenches are considering opposing the government’s upheaval of the planning system as set out in the Planning White Paper. Notably, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of MPs surveyed think it is important that local councils should choose and prioritise the most suitable development sites, which is something the proposed zonal planning system would exclude. Naomi Luhde-Thompson, senior planner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s clear to so many MPs, councillors and local communities that the Prime Minister’s vision for decision-making on development in England is not one that guarantees local control and centres local voices. “The privatisation of the planning system so far, where so many decisions are no longer made in principle by councils but by developers, like the conversion of offices into homes, tells us what this government thinks of local control. “The proposals in the White Paper will drown out community voices, stifle local democratic responsibility and weaken legal protections for the environment.” The letter from local councillors concludes: “The right development in the right place has the potential to deliver social equity and sustainable economic growth, as well as meeting our environmental ambitions. “The government’s proposals as they stand will not achieve these goals. With this is mind, we urge you [Mr Jenrick] to rethink the proposals you have set out and work with elected representatives in developing a positive vision for planning.” With the 2021 local government elections just around the corner in May, CPRE and Friends of the Earth are joining local councillors to call on the government to rethink the planning proposals they have set out, trust in local expertise and work with elected representatives in creating the places and homes communities need, especially in rural areas.
John Wotton, CPRE Kent chairman, has given a statement regarding the government’s proposed – and highly contentious – changes to the country’s planning system. Mr Wotton said: “The policies in the Planning for the Future White Paper published in August, combined with the measures in a separate consultation paper, Changes to the Current Planning System, are wide-ranging and, in my view, potentially disastrous for the countryside, especially in Kent and other parts of the South East, where the pressure for unsustainable development is already intense. “Increased housing targets will be set by central government, under a complex formula, with a view to building at least 300,000 homes per year and will be binding on local planning authorities, whose ability to review and refuse planning will be reduced. “A new system of zoning will designate all land as either growth, renewal or so-called ‘protected’ zones. The opportunities for the public to participate in the plan-making and place-making processes will be curtailed. “I believe that opposing these changes is a fundamental necessity for protecting the Kent countryside, which we all love.”
Consultation on the second major tranche of proposed changes to the planning regime closed yesterday (Thursday, October 29). Despite the government’s stated aims of ‘levelling up’ the country and prioritising brownfield redevelopment, we see little within the proposals that would actually achieve that. Along with so many others in the wider CPRE network, we raised our concerns over the proposals, which would see a significant increase in the amount of rural land that would have to be allocated for housing, and would mean people would see a dramatic reduction in their ability to have a say about how their communities develop.
It was heartening to see so many MPs echo CPRE’s concerns in a parliamentary debate on Thursday, October 8. We hope our concerns will be heeded and we can maintain a planning system that has communities, nature and the climate at its heart.
CPRE Kent has submitted its response to the government’s Changes to the Current Planning System consultation (click here). The process could have an ultimately devastating impact on much of Kent, with almost all the county’s district authorities facing housebuilding hikes of up to 125 per cent. If the consultation figures are accepted as part of planning policy, Kent will need to build an extra 2,835 homes a year on top of current targets, which are already frighteningly high.
We have already referred to the government’s Changes to the Current Planning System consultation (click here) and the drastic effect it could have on Kent, with almost all the county’s district authorities facing annual housebuilding hikes of up to 125 per cent. If the consultation figures, based on what has already been described as “another rogue algorithm”, are accepted as part of planning policy, Kent will need to build an extra 2,835 homes a year on top of current targets, which are already eye-wateringly high. Now CPRE has produced its response to the consultation and you can read it here. At almost 9,700 words, you might not want to tackle it in one sitting, but it is an important document and one we hope will cause the government to reconsider what are potentially highly damaging proposals to our countryside and indeed our way of life.