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It’s official: the government is U-turning on planning system changes

10th January 2022

In a seismic success for CPRE, the countryside charity and planning campaigners across the country, it’s now confirmed: the voices of local people will remain central to the planning system.

We’ve campaigned about the damaging proposals that the government had put forward to change the planning system since they were announced, warning that the changes would cut out the voices of local people in steering what developments would be built locally.

After persistent calls for a rethink, ministers have backed down from their plans and now acknowledge that any new system will have ‘effective local engagement at its heart’.

‘… with community views central to decisions’

The rethink is evident in a submission from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG; now known as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) to their colleagues in the House of Lords’ committee looking at the built environment.

Far from the original government plans for decisions on new buildings to operate at a zonal level, with some permissions assumed granted based on the zone, the wording of the submission now suggests that changes to the planning system will keep local democracy at their core.

The submission says that an updated planning system will be ‘continuing to require consultation on the details of development proposals as they come forward,’ and that the system will have ‘effective local engagement at its heart, with community views central to decisions’. Crucially, the submission also asserts that:

‘There will be a continuing role for public consultation as part of the planning application process. Even where the broad principle of development is agreed through the plan, all the details would still need to be consulted on with communities and statutory consultees, and approved by officers or committees where appropriate.’

A dramatic change for the better

This wording marks a huge departure from the original proposals, which risked disempowering local people by taking important decisions about their valued local areas out of their hands.

This is the firmest confirmation yet that the department, with Michael Gove as the Minister for Housing since the Prime Minister’s reshuffle in September 2021, has listened to the concerns raised by CPRE and others and are walking back from the toxic proposals.

As Tom Fyans, our director of campaigns and policy, says:

‘Up until now we only had unconfirmed rumours that much-maligned planning reforms – which would have devastated local democracy – were going to be watered down.

‘The government’s submission to the Lords Built Environment Committee strongly suggests it has listened to criticism and fundamentally changed its approach. If so, this would be a huge victory for campaigners.’

And Tom celebrates the shift towards ensuring that local democracy remains key to the planning system, saying ‘It appears the government now genuinely understands the need for local communities to have a powerful voice in planning decisions.’

Planning: the toolbox for agreeing what gets built and where

At CPRE, we’re passionate about the set of rules that govern what developments happen and where because we want to see truly affordable rural homes that will tackle the housing crisis.

And as Tom puts it, ‘Community engagement provides the local knowledge and nuance that cannot be replaced by a centralised planning system.’ Cutting local people out of major building decisions would only increase the risk of developers focusing on the wrong kinds of homes and continuing to leave too many people without housing options.

So we welcome the wording of the ministers’ submission to the Lords with open arms. It expresses a clear commitment to an updated planning system that emphasises local communities having their say about decisions, saying that the planning system would give ‘communities a greater voice from the start of the planning process.’

‘The government needs to bite the bullet’

Local and national CPRE have not been the only voices calling for clarity and thoughtful decisions about the proposed changes to planning rules. The chair of the Lords committee that the submission was addressing has also expressed frustration at the delays caused by the shifting sands of the government’s as-yet unconfirmed proposals.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe said in The Times that: ‘The most important aspect in terms of housing supply is planning. Frankly, all the twisting and turning over reform has had a chilling effect, creating uncertainty for housebuilders and planners. The government needs to bite the bullet and actually build housing of all types and tenures.’

Help us to even more campaign wins

The news today is a great sign that once again, the powerful voice of local campaigners has combined with CPRE to force the government to change tack. With your support and from as little as £3 a month, we can keep on making headway and calling for new housing that truly works for local people. Become a member now.

Houses as seen from above with a dramatic focus effect making some parts pin-sharp
A birds-eye view on rural homes Tiago Rodrigues / Unsplash