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CPRE reflects on Queen's Speech announcements

18 May 2016

Several new bills of interest to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) were announced in the Queen's Speech today. These included a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, and a Digital Economy Bill.

The former appears to put neighbourhood plans at the heart of planning following detailed discussions during the Housing and Planning Bill (now Act). The description of the Bill also seeks to emphasise the importance of protecting the Green Belt while building the homes we need. The Bill will, however, propose changes to pre-commencement planning conditions. CPRE fears such changes would mean fewer environmental considerations before development begins.

The Digital Economy Bill, meanwhile, seeks to establish a legal right to fast broadband, following a recent consultation discussing how to extend superfast broadband services to the 5% (most often rural areas) who do not currently have adequate access.

Paul Miner, Tom Fyans and Belinda Gordon reflect on the announcements in today’s Queen’s Speech.

 

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager, on Government proposals to relax pre-commencement planning conditions: 

“We are worried that this looks like another attempt to liberalise, rather than localise, the planning system.

“Of course, local authorities must ensure that conditions are reasonable – but they have no incentive to slow down housing development once permission has been granted. But we are worried that the bill could lead to overstretched local authorities throwing in the towel and not insisting that important environmental surveys take place before development goes ahead.

“The Government must make sure that local authorities can always insist on conditions such as archaeological and tree surveys and proper mediation where there is a reason to believe they are needed. These are issues that deserve proper scrutiny from all sides, and especially from developers. Anything less and the support of the local community, and the beauty of the countryside, could be undermined and lost.”

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at CPRE, comments:

On neighbourhood planning

“After ministers pledged to ensure the ‘primacy’ of neighbourhood plans during debates on the Housing Bill, we are very pleased to see neighbourhood planning on the name of the new bill.

“The Government has clearly committed to empowering local communities in today’s announcements. Along with supportive peers and MPs, we now keenly await further detail on how the Government will make the duty to consult neighbourhood planning groups more transparent, and how it intends to improve the process of reviewing and updating plans.”

On Green Belt

“Our research recently showed that more than 275,000 houses are now planned for Green Belt land, a threat unprecedented in recent times. Too often has the Government passed the buck on Green Belt protection – and to councils under Government pressure to meet unrealistic and unsustainably high housing targets.

“It is therefore good to see the Government putting Green Belt protection at the top of its housing agenda, but we do need to see more action from ministers to make sure that protection actually happens.”

 

Belinda Gordon, head of government affairs, comments:

On infrastructure

“Giving the National Infrastructure Commission a legal footing could help us plan more effectively for long-term needs, but the commission must not function as an expert black box.

“Infrastructure can make or break a place, so we must ensure that communities are fully consulted on the decisions that affect them, and that any new infrastructure leaves not only a lasting impression but a beneficial legacy. We must seek to enhance but also protect our beautiful countryside.”

On the Bus Services Bill 

“While buses are booming in many cities, cuts in rural areas mean bus services haven’t been scarcer since the days of the horse and cart.

“We need to find ways to improve rural bus services, but the Buses Bill will only be judged a success if it helps to secure an integrated bus network across local authority boundaries and deep into rural areas.”

 

Paul Miner, on broadband:

“Those in rural areas suffer the most from slow internet speeds and poor coverage, and unless the Government strengthens its plans by committing to a full roll-out of high-speed connections rural areas are at risk of being left behind.

“High-speed broadband is essential to thriving rural communities and making rural areas attractive to new residents and businesses. Rural communities must have the same opportunities as those in towns and cities.

“New planning rules to speed up and simplify the building of mobile and superfast broadband infrastructure must also address the impact this will have on the countryside. New infrastructure is welcome where it is sensitive to the landscape and avoids damage to natural spaces. This can sometimes be done by fixing new masts to existing buildings – such as churches or farm building roofs – provided that their heritage value is considered and protected.”

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