English councillors in revolt over plans to dismantle planning system

10 December 2020

CPRE, the countryside charity and Friends of the Earth are joining over 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 are crying out for

Over two thousand local councillors (2,062) have called on the government to abandon the most damaging elements of its changes to the planning system in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick. Over 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 that there is in the Conservative Party itself.

In the letter, councillors warn that the proposed changes to planning will undermine the trust that 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, the countryside charity, said:

‘The message from MPs, communities and now over 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, local communities, MPs, former Cabinet Ministers and even the former Prime Minister Theresa May MP.

A recent poll off Conservative backbench MPs, conducted by Savanta Comres, also found that more than half of Conservative MPs (55%) on the backbenches are considering opposing the government’s upheaval of the planning system as set out in the Planning White Paper. Notably, over three quarters (78%) 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 stating: ‘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 [Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government] 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.

 

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson please contact:

Jonathan Jones, CPRE Media Relations Lead, 07739 332796, jonathanj@cpre.org.uk

 

Notes to editors

 

Regional breakdown of signatories

Region          No. of signatories

South East          530

North West        289

South West        238

London              228

East of England 208

East Midlands    180

West Midlands   158

North East         128

Yorkshire and the Humber 103

 

About the open letter

The open letter is addressed to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the government’s proposed changes to the planning system, as announced in August 2020 in the White Paper – Planning for the Future. It opened for signatures on Friday 30 October, from currently-serving councillors and MPs from all political parties and will be sent to the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, in the coming days. The letter is being hosted by CPRE, the countryside charity, and Friends of the Earth and more the full text can be found here: https://bit.ly/3qD2NRf

About the Savanta Comres Survey

Savanta ComRes interviewed 40 backbench Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) online and through paper surveys from the 5 October to 6 November 2020. Unweighted sample represents 17% of backbench Conservative MPs in the House of Commons. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comresglobal.com

Full set of results can be found here:.

About CPRE, the countryside charity

CPRE is the countryside charity that campaigns to promote, enhance and protect the countryside for everyone’s benefit, wherever they live. With a local CPRE in every county, we work with communities, businesses and government to find positive and lasting ways to help the countryside thrive – today and for generations to come. Founded in 1926, President: Emma Bridgewater, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.

 

About Friends of the Earth

About Friends of the Earth: Friends of the Earth is an international community dedicated to the protection of the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We bring together more than two million people in 75 countries, combining people power all over the world to transform local actions into global impact. For more information visit: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/ follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page.