Wide-ranging reforms of the planning system proposed by the Conservative Party in a planning Green Paper have received a mixed response.
The party has proposed third-party appeals, a presumption in favour of “sustainable development”, a “National Planning Framework”, changes to the Use Classes Order (UCO) regime, a reduced role for the Planning Inspectorate, an end to national housing targets and the scrapping of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).
The Conservatives claimed, in the document 'Open Source Planning', that the present system was “broken” and set out proposals to abolish the existing regional planning arrangements, remove the power of the Planning Inspectorate to “rewrite local plans” and amend the UCO so that “people can use land and buildings for any purpose allowed in the local plan”.
Under the changed local planning regime proposed by the document, the Inspectorate would report to the Secretary of State on any breaches of national planning guidance.
“Where the SoS finds that a local plan breaches national planning guidance, is not appropriately spatial, or has not been produced within the statutory framework, it will be for the local planning authority to amend and resubmit its local plan,” said the green paper.
Matt Thomson, acting director of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute, denied the planning system was “broken”. He said: “The system itself is basically sound, but has been over-engineered and centralised. Few of the Conservatives’ stated aims actually need a radical change to the planning system, change which could lead to a period of uncertainty, resulting in serious consequences for the provision of housing, employment and key infrastructure, as well as for overall economic recovery.”
He added: “We will be looking very closely at proposals that we have concerns about, such as abolishing regional planning, enabling so-called third-party rights of appeal and introducing a presumption in favour of sustainable development.”
Fiona Howie, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “We welcome the aspiration to get more people involved in shaping the communities that they live in. The current planning system is by no means perfect but there are elements of it that we do not want to see lost in a hasty and sweeping reform. A national target on housing density, for example, will continue to be critical in preventing urban sprawl and protecting our countryside.”
She added: “The planning system has been through two major reforms in the last decade. In refining their proposals the Conservatives should engage further with local people and stakeholders so that any new system does not cause more problems than it resolves.”
Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “Targets have failed and it’s clear we need to try out new innovative ways of making things happen, but while there are some excellent ideas here, third-party right of appeals would be a recipe for chaos. It would clog up the system and undermine everything the Tories have said about being pro-development.”
25 February 2010