OPINION: Government’s White Paper on future of planning is a recipe for disaster

A government proposal coud mean the granting of automatic planning permission which could see develo

A government proposal coud mean the granting of automatic planning permission which could see developments spring up in rural areas unopposed - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

David Hook and Chris Dady from the CPRE (Campaign To Protect Rural England) Norfolk explain how a new proposal which grants automatic planning permission would change the process for the worse

The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 was the bedrock on which Britain’s modern planning system was built, and arguably this system ranks alongside the formation of the NHS as one of the greatest achievements of post war Britain. It has restricted ribbon development and urban sprawl and in so doing protected large tracts of countryside from being swallowed up by suburbia, to the benefit of us all. We should all justifiably be proud of the benefits that planning has delivered.

The government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ initiative together with the newly published White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ pose a considerable threat to our countryside. The White Paper proposes drastic changes that will decimate our planning rules. The thinking behind this puts planning squarely in the firing line as the factor that has delayed the amount of new building the government wishes to see, but in reality developers only build to demand where profits can be made. The resultant large scale land banking should therefore not be blamed on the planners. Locally our planners have done their bit. It is not their fault that sites they have allocated for more than 30,000 houses in the Greater Norwich Plan area remain undeveloped.

At present it is possible for anyone to comment on development proposals at all stages of the planning process including when local plans are formulated and when planning applications are made. This will change for residents who discover that they are living in one of the new ‘Growth’ zones. Here, as long as developments conform to central government guidelines, they will be granted automatic planning permission. The same automatic permission could also apply to developments proposed in areas defined as Renewal Zones. A large proportion of the public will therefore lose its right to comment on individual planning applications, a right for everybody to use in what has always been a community based process. This is the stuff of dictatorships, and it will lead to a democratic deficit the like of which we have never seen before. It is unacceptable that the proposed legislation will rob many of their chance to have a say.

More stringent controls would still apply to Protected Areas, including green belts (there are currently none in Norfolk), Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads, conservation areas, wildlife sites and areas of open countryside that are not part of Growth or Renewal Zones. In Norfolk most of our countryside falls in to the category of open countryside and is generally well protected under the current system. The worry is that the White Paper will lead to significant areas of Open Countryside being classed as Growth or Renewal Zones and therefore sacrificed to development.

Locally there is already great pressure for land to be released for development. One example is the proposed Western Link road near Norwich which would cut through the Wensum Valley a highly scenic and environmentally important landscape.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the value of our countryside, and more than ever people value this wonderful asset. The White Paper should be providing a greater level of protection for this and not presenting a developers charter overriding local interests.

You can comment on the White Paper at: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future and you can also write directly to your MP to give your views. The consultation closes on October 29.