Many of you have written to me about the recent Government White Paper on Planning Reform entitled Planning for the Future, to express your concerns about the sweeping changes being proposed.
Without doubt, the Government is considering the most radical reform of the UK planning system since its inception at the end of the Second World War. The White Paper is essentially a consultation document, outlining the Government’s present thinking and policy preferences. The consultation closed on 29th October and the Conservative Group responded to the consultation and has published its response in full here.
I would like to thank my colleague, Cllr Dr Richard Moore, Basildon Conservatives Spokesman for Strategic Planning & Infrastructure, for his assiduity and forthrightness in drawing up my Group’s response. I wholeheartedly endorse it and am extremely pleased that the Conservative Group – alone, as far as I know, among the political groups in Basildon – has taken the step of publishing their response. That commitment to transparency is to be applauded.
Speaking on my own behalf, I would stress to residents that, having previously served for four years on the Planning Committee at Basildon Borough Council, nobody will get any argument from me that Britain’s outdated planning system is absolutely crying out for reform. It is a relic of another age and is unwieldy and inadequate for the times in which we live.
There are some things in the White Paper that I would broadly welcome. I think we should make it easier for residents to access plans and comment on them and I am extremely pleased to see renewed commitment to protecting the Green Belt and moves towards securing the necessary infrastructure to support developments. I welcome stronger enforcement powers for local planning authorities.
I also warmly welcome the commitment to good design and I was delighted by the formation of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, chaired by the late, great Sir Roger Scruton. More or less everybody recognises that we need more housing but what nobody wants to see is a repeat of the architectural catastrophes of the 1960s and ’70s. We need policies that will promote high-quality design for our new neighbourhoods and I would heartily recommend their report, Living With Beauty (sadly, Sir Roger passed away less a fortnight after the report was produced).
Party loyalty aside, however, there are some elements of the White Paper that trouble me (and my colleagues) deeply. Whilst I would agree that the Local Plan process is unbearably lengthy – and goodness knows we have seen that in Basildon; the preparation of our Local Plan has been rumbling on since before I was even elected, seven years ago, and remains unresolved to this day – the answer cannot simply be to cut public consultation down to a bear minimum. It is vital that residents are properly consulted and given ample opportunity to scrutinise the plans for their local area.
I am also not at all enthusiastic about the White Paper’s proposals for land categories, whereby any applications for land categorised as a ‘Growth Area’ will be automatically granted consent and those in a ‘Renewal Area’ considered without public consultation. That cannot be right and would seem to fly in the face of the Government’s professed commitment to local democracy.
In our response, Basildon Conservatives have also emphasised that environmental protection policies and standards should be strengthened and we have, as ever, stressed the importance of Infrastructure First, including roads, GP surgeries, hospitals and schools, in order to deliver new housing.
I shall also be writing personally to our MP, John Baron, to appraise him of our concerns locally and ask him to feed this back to the Government.