As the government announce major planning reforms, we criticise ‘pitiful’ aims and call for robust legal guarantees

6th August 2020

We raise concerns about the rules that control new building works and emphasise the need for community involvement.

Robert Jenrick, housing secretary, has today proposed changes to reform an ‘outdated’ planning system. The government says that the changes are intended to speed up the planning process and allow more building as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

But we at CPRE, the countryside charity, are raising queries about elements of the proposals, including the risks of community voices being lost in the process. The government’s Planning for the Future White Paper includes plans around potential zoning systems and spells out plans for more consultation and planning to take place digitally. But as Tom Fyans, our deputy chief executive, notes, bringing activity online can risk excluding some voices: ‘As things stand, the government seems to have conflated the ‘digitalisation’ of planning with democratic planning – they’re not the same thing.’

Consulting communities

CPRE has long argued that the voices of local people need to be more included in planning developments so that communities can ensure that they get the developments they need and in the right places. But the new proposals aren’t clear on how this democratic approach to planning can be ensured. As Tom says:

‘The key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement and on first reading, it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system.

'we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development.'
Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive

‘Although we welcome the government’s commitment to all areas having a local plan in place, we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development. Red lines on a map are not going to build trust in the planning system.’

Carbon neutral, affordable housing: missed chances

We also campaign for action to address the climate emergency, and the way that new housing is built can play a significant role in this. New homes should be built with the climate crisis in mind – but we feel the government miss the mark on this, lacking ambition. Tom expresses our disappointment at this missed opportunity.

‘The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by the government. If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to be much, much more ambitious on new builds.’

'The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful.'
Tom Fyans

And we are also concerned about how the government will ensure that new homes built in rural areas are truly affordable, supporting the needs of local people in areas at crisis point with a stark lack of available housingnot least for key workers.

‘On affordable homes, our concern is how this approach might play out in the countryside. In many rural areas, house prices are often more than ten times average earnings, and so the 30 percent discount won’t cut it. Local authorities should be able to provide the sorts of homes needed in their area – homes that local people can afford.’

Brownfield-first

The government’s proposals include reference to building on brownfield land (that is, land that has been previously developed) – an area that we’ve long campaigned on. Making use of this neglected land before greenfield sites should be a priority. But we emphasise the need for local authorities to be a part of this process, to ensure that much-loved green spaces are protected. Tom urges that this consideration not be overlooked, saying:

‘We have long advocated for a genuinely brownfield-first approach and on this aspect, the government seems to have listened. But if a brownfield-first approach is to work, local authorities need to be able to prioritise the building of those sites and reject unnecessary losses of greenfield land.’

Stepping up for better

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A builder in a high visibility vest on a building site