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Government Growth Plan is an attack on the environment

6 November 2012

The countryside is under threat from fast-tracked new infrastructure The countryside is under threat from fast-tracked new infrastructure © Shutterstock

CPRE believe The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is a below the radar attack on level-headed planning and protection of the nation’s precious environment and countryside. 

It will do little to deliver important long term economic development, but it will send a mistaken message that any development is good for growth.  The Bill will create upheaval in planning that will actually damage growth prospects by reducing the certainty and confidence developers and investors need.
The Bill was published on 18 October and received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Monday 5 November.  It is on a fast track to become law by early 2013.
John Hoad, Head of Planning at CPRE, says:
“Government rhetoric about local planning inefficiency and bureaucracy holding up economic growth is a diversion from the real issue - lack of funding for development.  The Bill is a poor recipe for delivering either growth or infrastructure. With environment given such a low priority, we will see schemes for business, housing and roads on greenfields rushed through by cowed councils, and a rash of broadband clutter in our best landscapes and villages.
“Worse, the new laws, combined with the disingenuous message Ministers are sending about unnecessary red tape, will seriously damage the capacity of the planning system to protect our countryside and environment and deliver the right growth in the right locations.  
“These changes will create confusion and chaos in the planning system and generate greater conflict between developers, councils and the Government.  Public concern about development will grow”.  
CPRE has serious concerns about the Bill and the way it is being presented by Government:
•       It marks a dramatic shift away from the Government’s commitment to localism.  The coalition agreement states “We will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we will end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.”  It is difficult to see how proposals to take planning powers away from local authorities, or to allow developers to bypass local councils in determining affordable housing requirements, are compatible with this aim.
•       It undermines established forms of environmental protection, including for village greens, and the powers that control  unnecessary overhead lines and intrusive equipment boxes in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
•       It fails to address a key problem for local councils.  Most of the planning proposals in the Bill seem to be motivated by a view that planning authorities are being slow in making decisions on planning applications or getting local plans in place.  Yet continued uncertainty about the status of Regional Spatial Strategies, which the Government committed to abolish, is exacerbating this problem.  This is because there is confusion about whether top down development requirements are still driving decisions, or if there is genuine local choice, as originally promised.
CPRE believes that moving away from a commitment to local decision-making will make it very difficult to achieve any public consent for necessary development.  
The Government appears set on re-opening its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) argument with environmental groups, just a few short months after the debate on planning was supposedly settled.  Campaigners fought hard for a more balanced expression of policy that recognised environmental protection as a bedrock of sustainable development and long-term economic growth.  The balance achieved is now under attack.
CPRE has published a detailed Parliamentary Briefing on the Bill.

CPRE's John Hoad speaks to the BBC's Daily Politics on the Bill

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