Last month the Government announced controversial changes to England’s planning system, which will make it much easier for developers to build new homes and commercial buildings but much more difficult for local councils to deny planning permission in designated areas. The ostensible object of the changes is to speed up development but there is an undeniable political subtext….
What are the changes?
The biggest change is that land will be divided into three categories: growth, renewal, and protected. Planning would be automatically secured for areas categorised for growth, with councils able to veto only on very restricted grounds. On land marked for renewal, councils will be be required to grant a thing called permission in principal to plans for development; protected land will include green belts and areas of natural beauty, where new building plans will not be allowed.
A time limit of 30 months is proposed for planning applications to be completed; if the time limit is exceeded, the council will be sanctioned in some unspecified way.
The Church Lane site (H2.4), earmarked for housing in Wiltshire’s Housing Site Allocation Plan. If Local Plans are to be superseded, will H2.4 be categorised for growth or renewal? Will our concerns for Lambrok Stream be listened to?
What is the controversy?
The plans are controversial because it is believed they will lead to rushed, poor quality housing in areas that should be protected from development: the proposals have been called a developers’ charter. The influence and importance of local authorities and of community opinion will be diminished; ecological protection standards will be at risk.
A view across the park towards the Church Lane site where developers are proposing to build 65 houses. (Photo by DKG)
How does it affect the park?
There are plans, already more than 30 months old, for Lambrok Stream, a vital contributor to the park’s biodiversity, to be bordered for more than a kilometre by new housing development. There will be houses at three sites (see the header picture) and we are doing our best to negotiate limits to the damage that these developments might do to the stream. The new rules seem to suggest that this area for negotiation between local authorities, community and developers will vanish, much to the detriment of local environments.
In addition, we need to know by whom, and how, land will be allocated to each category; can we be sure that the park and its biodiversity will be protected?
What will happen next?
The consultation document is 84 pages long, filled with technical language, and asks 25 questions (most of them containing subsections) using phraseology that is off-puttingly similar to a school exam:
7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”, which would include consideration of environmental impact?
[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]
The consultation period will end on October 1st. If you can manage to decode the consultation document, please, please respond to it and send a copy of your response to Dr Andrew Murrison, our MP. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
These are murky times: we are between two legislative systems, one soon to be discarded and one not quite up and running yet and neither seemingly concerned for our ailing environment.