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Concerns for local democracy raised by Government planning proposals

Local democracy concerns have been raised in response to Government proposals to radically overhaul the planning system.

The Goverment's proposed reforms, entitled ‘Planning For the Future’, will see changes to the way planning permission works, including granting automatic permission to some developments that fit within a certain ‘design code’.

The streamlining could include automating some parts of the planning process and taking control away from local authorities as central Government looks to achieve national housing targets of about 300,000 per year.

Under the proposals, the Government will work with local authorities and residents to identify ‘growth’ areas which are suitable for substantial development, ‘renewal’ areas that are suitable for some development, and ‘protected’ areas, where development will be restricted.

Once these areas have been designated, local authorities will have a reduced ability to prevent development, particularly in the ‘growth’ areas, and outline approval would be automatically granted to developments that fulfil a certain set of criteria.

Section 106 payments and the Community Infrastructure Levy will also be scrapped in favour of a new Infrastrucutre Levy.

Bob Dulson, Maidenhead Civic Society chairman, stated that the changes could threaten local democracy.

He said: “Maidenhead Civic Society has long argued that the voices of local people need to be included more in planning, both earlier in the process and throughout it.

“So while we’re encouraged that residents would be involved in determining the ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protected’ zones proposed, we’re concerned at the thought of automation thereafter.

“Automating planning decisions raises concerns over local democracy.

“In this new system, local plans will be more critical than ever, so we must ensure they are democratic, with people properly consulted and engaged at every stage.

“Planning is not black and white. There are dozens of shades of grey, not to mention green and blue.”

Some councils have reacted angrily to the proposals.

Cllr John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said: “We’re outraged and disgusted at these Government proposals which would see the amount of new housing more than double across the Wokingham Borough to 1,635 per year. This is completely and utterly unacceptable.”

In the Royal Borough, Cllr David Coppinger had a more measured response. He said: “I can understand the Government’s frustration in the lack of progress in building homes, but I don’t think they’re focusing blame in the right place.

“I’m not opposed to it if it unlocks the housing market for people across the country, that’s a good thing.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “Our proposals will increase the supply of land available for new homes where it is needed to address affordability pressures, and support economic growth and the renewal of our towns and cities.”

The 80-page white paper is out for consultation until October 29.

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