The government’s planning proposals: wrong answers based on wrong assumptions

I am compiling a response from the local Green Party to the Government’s ‘Planning for the future’ policy proposals – please send me your thoughts before Thursday, 29 October and I will try to include all useful contributions in our response.

The planning system is often misunderstood but it has made an enormous positive impact since its creation in 1947. From a Green perspective it has protected countryside and key heritage – but it’s not just a story about preservation. The planning system has helped build communities, deliver homes and jobs, and is a key component of local democratic decision making.

The Government’s proposals aren’t just minor changes to the current system – they are a wholesale replacement.

Wrong answers based on wrong assumptions

The Government’s White Paper is a radical and far-reaching document which takes the wrong approach and indeed makes the wrong assumptions about what is actually wrong with the system. It fails to look properly at the evidence and to understand the reasons for failed delivery of housing, which is much more about the market failing to deliver than the planning system failing to allocate land for housing. There are thousands of homes waiting to be built under unimplemented planning permissions but housebuilders don’t want to build until it suits their needs, eg keeping prices high.

The shortage of affordable homes being built is a national disgrace and its surely no surprise that house prices have sky rocketed at the same time as council house building effectively ceased 30 years ago. But the housebuilders are not interested in meeting needs so they continue to build four-bedroomed detached homes for the market.

Climate change and mental health: missed opportunities

Furthermore, the White Paper is a missed opportunity to address climate change, rebuild ecosystems and to bring forward proven solutions. It does not take the opportunity to reconnect planning with public health which is essential in the modern age – mental health is increasingly impacting the NHS and the role of green infrastructure in combatting these issues has not been considered here.

It seeks simple answers without understanding the complexity of the problems. It is not based on the evidence available and is entirely lacking in the detail in key areas.

Dismantling local democracy

The key changes proposed in this over-centralised approach will damage local democracy and take away local control. It will dismantle the Local Plans system and whilst there is merit in enabling local areas to take distinctive approaches to their local problems, the White Paper undermines this by using national standards instead

Key issues

Some of the key issues are set out below for any final feedback before submission next week:

  • Much of the proposed reform will undermine local democracy and local decision making, such as by setting many development management policies nationally; and speeding up or streamlining processes eg auto permissions in growth areas.
  • Sustainability and environmental impact would be watered down and climate change seems to be ignored in a headlong rush to build homes. There is no evidence as to how we will achieve zero carbon. The replacement system of environmental assessments is deeply concerning, as there is no detail or even sense of importance about making these work better.  A clear straightforward means of assessment that assesses carbon impact, constraints including flooding and air quality issues is needed.
  • With public health being a major concern and key to place making, this should be considered under green infrastructure and connecting people to nature in the urban areas.
  • Wildlife and biodiversity need to be essential in the mix and given much higher level of consideration formally in the decision making system. Whilst the commitment to biodiversity net gain is welcomed, we need to go much further, acknowledging the need for policy to address our biodiversity emergency, and catastrophic species loss in which land use – and loss – plays a crucial role. Infrastructure such as national projects should also be included in this and key natural capital assets should be credited and losses avoided. The metrics for biodiversity net gain need to ensure we fully recognise the importance of having no loss of particular species loss or long-established habitat such as ancient woodlands or wetlands in assessment of areas for development (not just assuming that ,for example, an ancient woodland can simply be ‘replaced’ elsewhere).
  • In reality the delivery of homes is the market’s responsibility and at present developers are more keen to land-bank and release sites when they want to. There are MANY unimplemented planning permissions.
  • The simplification of Local Plans represents a dismantling of the system and its replacement by zoning which is to be based on three categories – protected areas, renewal and growth – far too simplistic. Large swathes of land could be designated as growth areas, creating massive infrastructure and environmental impacts and undermining green belts and other designations.
  • There needs to be a focus on delivery of affordable housing. The viability issues that allow developers to avoid policy obligations (high land prices in advance of planning set it up to fail) are not resolved and so affordable housing will shrink.
  • In any event, if national measures, standards and policies are to be introduced, the housing problem can be reduced by addressing the population decline in the North and investing there.

Please send me your thoughts at or post your comments here.


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One Comment

  1. S Chiswell
    Posted Friday, 13 November 2020 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Absolutely a first class interpretation of this Govt’s plan to disintegrate the current planning
    Laws. Affordable housing is vital, especially for young families.

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