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Berkshire councillors join with CPRE in revolt over government plans to dismantle planning system

Imogen Haig
By Imogen Haig
11 December 2020

Time for government to rethink its planning policy proposals and work with its locally elected representatives

CPRE, the countryside charity and Friends of the Earth are joining over 2,000 local councillors to call on the government to rethink its planning proposals and work with locally elected representatives to create the places and homes communities are crying out for.

Forty-five Berkshire councillors have joined over two thousand local councillors (2,062) in calling on the government to abandon the most damaging elements of its changes to the planning system in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick. Nationally, over 350 of the councillors, or one in six of those who signed the letter, are Conservatives, which shows the breadth of opposition to the damaging changes that there is in the Conservative Party itself.

In the letter, councillors warn that the proposed changes to planning will undermine the trust that the public has in the planning system and ‘could radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change.’

Local democracy is a major concern for the signatories, with the proposals as they stand leading to ‘an unacceptable loss of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability and worse outcomes for communities.’

The letter goes on to highlight the need for a strong local planning system to support sustainable development, community cohesion and a healthy environment but highlights that the government’s proposals as currently set out ‘will not achieve these goals.’

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘The message from MPs, communities and now over two thousand councillors is clear but it is not too late for the government to rethink its controversial upheaval of the planning system.

‘Planning done well can create the affordable and well-designed homes that communities are crying out for. We can create low carbon and nature friendly homes, with an abundance of green space on their doorsteps, all connected by low carbon public transport. Investing in a locally-led democratic planning system, that empowers local councils to create these places, should be the government’s top priority.

We stand with these councillors in urging Ministers to work with us to develop and deliver a better set of planning reforms that can actually deliver our country’s environmental, economic and social objectives.’

You can take action and add your voice to the letter here.

The government’s proposed changes to the planning system would be the biggest change to the planning system since the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947. But the proposals put forward by ministers have already faced fierce opposition from local councillors, local communities, MPs, former Cabinet Ministers and even the former Prime Minister Theresa May MP, who has held Berkshire’s Maidenhead constituency since its formation in 1997.

A recent poll* of Conservative backbench MPs, conducted by Savanta Comres, also found that:

  • more than half of Conservative MPs (55%) on the backbenches are considering opposing the government’s upheaval of the planning system as set out in the Planning White Paper.
  • Notably, over three quarters (78%) of MPs surveyed think it is important that local councils should choose and prioritise the most suitable development sites, which is something the proposed zonal planning system would exclude.

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, senior planner at Friends of the Earth, said:

‘It’s clear to so many MPs, councillors and local communities that the Prime Minister’s vision for decision-making on development in England is not one that guarantees local control and centres local voices. The privatisation of the planning system so far, where so many decisions are no longer made in principle by councils but by developers, like the conversion of offices into homes, tells us what this government thinks of local control.

‘The proposals in the white paper will drown out community voices, stifle local democratic responsibility, and weaken legal protections for the environment.

The letter from local councillors concludes stating:

‘The right development, in the right place has the potential to deliver social equity and sustainable economic growth, as well as meeting our environmental ambitions. The government’s proposals as they stand will not achieve these goals. With this is mind, we urge you [Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government] to rethink the proposals you have set out and work with elected representatives in developing a positive vision for planning.’

With the 2021 local government elections just around the corner in May, CPRE and Friends of the Earth are joining local councillors to call on the government to rethink the planning proposals they have set out, trust in local expertise and work with elected representatives in creating the places and homes communities need, especially in rural areas.

*About the Savanta Comres Survey
Savanta ComRes interviewed 40 backbench Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) online and through paper surveys from the 5 October to 6 November 2020. Unweighted sample represents 17% of backbench Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.
Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
The full set of results can be found here.