ELF’s initial thoughts on the proposed planning changes

By clairefowler

We now have more information on the government’s proposed changes to the planning laws, the so called “shake up”. A consultation is underway and can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future

One of the proposals that ELF has the most concern over is the removal of local people’s ability to comment on individual planning applications that affect them. In the Introduction to the White Paper, the minister blames the current system for the lack of building of new homes, and promises a greater say for the local people. ELF would assert that neither appears to be true.

Central housing targets and the requirement for Councils to prove a “5 year housing land supply”, have seen Councils forced to take steps to increase land supply for housing development. ELF knows of many greenbelt boundaries that have been changed through the local plan system, with thousands of hectares of greenbelt land released for housing for example. The National Planning Policy Framework introduced the “presumption of sustainable development” – there has to be a pretty good reason to refuse permission and the presumption was to approve. Statistics suggest that 4 out of 5 planning applications are approved. It does not appear that the system is at fault.

At the moment, our evidence is that few communities across the UK participate in the local draft plan system, often because they do not know about it or do not have the time to be involved in such a complex process. We welcome the aim to increase public participation in the production of local plans. However, we are concerned that such engagement will be less meaningful with the proposed restriction on what local plans will contain.

We would question the statement that the changes will give “you a greater say over what gets built in your community”. ELF has always been clear that the planning process represents a second opportunity for democracy, for local people to participate in the decisions about what is developed in their community. ELF sees so many matters where the community memory and knowledge have played a significant role in planning committee decisions.

The importance of the second tier of decision making to local people, at the individual planning application stage, makes up the biggest part of ELF’s enquiries and provides people with the greatest opportunity for participation in environmental decision making. This is what the government’s proposal will remove.

ELF is also unclear about how the proposed changes will interact with Neighbourhood Planning, see more on this later.

ELF considers that the proposals threaten the local democratic process and we will be responding to the consultation.  If ELF members would like to input into our response, we would be grateful to hear from you.