The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is urging people to write to their local MP about a draft new Government website on planning guidance. If the website is not improved it will frustrate the building of thousands of affordable homes, and lead to local councils being repeatedly overruled about where, and what type of, new housing is built in their area.
Members of the public and MPs have until this Wednesday (9 October) to make their voices heard about Government changes to planning guidance. The consultation comes as a growing tide of evidence shows that the Government’s planning reforms are not working as intended and need urgent clarification. In particular:
- Ministers and planning inspectors continue to override the wishes of local communities and permit large housing developments in sensitive areas of countryside. In the past two months alone, eight schemes totalling over 2,000 houses have been permitted in open countryside across Cheshire, Devon, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Teesside; and
- While more housing is being given planning permission, new housing is becoming less affordable. A recent study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that more than 2,300 affordable homes have been axed from new developments across England through renegotiation of previous planning agreements, with at least 70 local councils (listed in the study) having to accept lower levels of affordable housing in new developments than their policies called for.
The Government has an opportunity to address these issues through the new planning practice guidance. A draft website containing new guidance is being consulted on until 9 October.
CPRE believes that unless changed the draft guidance will make matters worse by:
- Removing controls on new development around villages, which have helped deliver up to 1,500 new affordable homes per year in a number of villages across England in recent years by keeping land values low;
- Preventing refusal, in most cases, of large housing schemes before a local authority has been able to decide what type of new housing is needed in an area and where it is best located (so-called ‘prematurity’ cases); and
- Requiring new tests of ‘affordability’ and ‘viability assessment’ for local planning which will, rather than helping to meet community needs, merely hand greater power to developers to build where they choose.
CPRE is calling for:
- Continued encouragement for affordable housing through policies protecting the open countryside, while providing ‘exception sites’ on the edge of villages where affordable housing is needed to ensure low land values;
- Local authorities to be able to refuse large housing schemes that are contrary to an advanced local plan; and
- The ‘affordability’ test to be scrapped and ‘viability assessment’ requirements to be simplified.
Paul Miner, Senior Planning Campaigner at CPRE, said:
‘Ministers have promised to return more power to local communities, recognise the intrinsic value of our countryside and provide more affordable housing. But there is growing evidence to suggest that the reverse is happening. Ministers need to be much clearer about how they expect planning to achieve what they have promised.’
Paul Miner concluded:
‘We need greater support for affordable housing in villages, and local authorities to be given more time to plan the right housing in the right places. Loading new and unnecessary requirements on them to assess the economic viability of their plans is not the way forward.’
CPRE has produced a petition on the draft guidance and our Charter to Save the Countryside, which people can use in letters to local MPs. These can be downloaded from the website.