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Lib Dems on Wiltshire Council have called for urgent changes to the government's planning laws

October 11, 2011 4:52 PM

Liberal Democrats on Wiltshire Council this week expressed their concerns over the changes to the planning system, and submitted their concerns to the government consultation.

Cllr Jon Hubbard, Lib Dem Group Leader (Melksham South)said 'The new proposals could allow developers free reign to build on greenfield sites, by overturning the current checks and balances, and giving developers 'presumed consent' to build anywhere, unless the council raises an objection. This is a real threat to communities and the environment in Wiltshire.

"Conservatives on Wiltshire Council and the Conservative Secretary of State have been equally unclear in defining what they mean by 'sustainable' development. One of our priorities is that a clear definition is placed on what 'sustainable' means. Wiltshire's Core Strategy, which fails to deal with development outside of the Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury, could be taken together with the Planning Reforms to allow uncontrolled building on our countryside. We've called on both Conservatives on Wiltshire Council and the national government to look at this."

Cllr Brian Dalton (Salisbury Harnham)commented "The Conservative Secretary of State's commitment to truly sustainable development and localism is brought into question by the Salisbury Bishopdown Farm housing development. Here local councillors and the planning inspector were overruled by central government diktat. I'm worried the Planning reforms will further crush local people's involvement in development."

Cllr Simon Killane (Malmesbury)commented "If the Planning Reforms can make the voice of local people stronger, I will support them. Currently however, they appear to be giving all the power to developers, and shut communities out of the process. We're asking the government to change their proposals, and ensure that Wiltshire can develop socially and environmentally, as well as economically."

The full response to the DCLG consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework

Wiltshire Council Liberal Democrat Group welcomes the opportunity to respond to the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). We believe it needs improvement in terms of both content and process. As it is currently drafted, it puts our valued countryside at risk, and contains contradictions which seem likely to undermine the Government‟s stated commitment to local decision making.

While we endorse the goal of simplification of the sometimes tangled planning laws, the fact remains that under the current system, around 80% of applications for planning permission already succeed. The current planning framework needs evolution, not revolution.

In our view, six elements of the draft NPPF need to be changed or improved.

Firstly we are deeply concerned about the stated aim to introduce a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, so that the default answer to development is "yes‟." In its crude form this will reverse longstanding and well tried planning frameworks whereby the developer has to make the economic, social and environmental case for the construction. Under the new framework, the onus will be on the Council to prove an application is not sustainable rather than the developer proving it is. We believe this could lead to unmitigated urban sprawl, and a significant increase in unnecessary development on greenfield sites. Particularly in this time of reduced public funding, local councils will be unable to staff a planning department capable of making the case against unnecessary development, without increased dependence on central government grants.

Secondly more clarity is needed about "sustainable development". We think it essential that the three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental - are given equal weight in the final document. At present there is a strong bias towards economic growth, with little focus on social and environmental factors. Our concern is that this would provide a carte blanche "Yes‟ to any development that is an economic "good‟, even if has damaging social and environmental affects.

Thirdly we are strongly opposed to Clause 130 of the Localism Bill, (Applications for planning permission: local finance considerations) which allows developers to overrule environmental and social constraints with financial payments. These would in effect be "legal bribes‟, which should absolutely not be a material consideration in planning decisions

As it stands the current draft has the unfortunate effect of undermining tried and tested plan led approach which has provided local communities with genuine opportunities to influence their own localities, together with some certainty over what development will be permitted and where. For example, we particularly regret the statement that the default answer should be yes if the plan is "absent silent, indeterminate or where relevant polices are out of date." We would rather propose that more strength be given to Neighbourhood Planning in the NPPF. Neighbourhood Planning Forums should become mandatory for each planning authority, rather than being an optional extra as currently suggested. Furthermore, to encourage involvement and ensure support from the wider community and not just planning officers, Neighbourhood Plans should be subject to local referenda, and allow communities to alter the house numbers planned for their area ("a presumption in favour of evidence-based, community endorsed growth‟). In the spirit of localism and community As well as being able to commission additional development, local communities should have the power to prevent it, and allow certain areas to remain development free.

Fifthly we ask for reconsideration of the requirement on local councils to have a 5 year supply of land plus an extra 20%. It is already the case that some Councils are losing appeals because they can't demonstrate that they can deliver sufficient numbers of new houses 5 years in advance. Adding an arbitrary imposed additional 20% will lead to more speculative applications with the likelihood of dire environmental and social consequences.

Lastly we agree with those who argue that the NPPF should be referenced in the Localism Bill to recognise its intended significance. Wiltshire Council Liberal Democrat Group are fully behind responsible development and housing that takes full account of economic, environmental and social conditions. We recognise that there are many families that need homes and access to the housing ladder, particularly at more affordable prices than are currently available.

In this we agree with the President of theRoyal Town Planning Institutewhen he said that "Good planning can help provide new housing, act as a catalyst for growth and jobs, protect the environment, and give local people a genuine say in developing the character of the places where they live and work. It also prevents a free-for-all where anyone can build what they like, where they like, and when they like." The changes proposed here would remove elements of the NPPF which would not contribute to good planning and introduce others which would contribute positively to that goal.