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Letter to Cllr Toby Sturgis

September 18, 2020 9:00 AM

Lib Dem LogoDear Toby, 16th September 2020

[The Planning Reform White Paper]

We are writing to you to ask you to condemn the planning changes announced last month by the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick and to pressure the Government to scrap the proposals.

The proposed changes will allow automatic approval for developments in 'growth' zones and 'permission in principle' for proposals in 'renewal' zones. This is a developers' charter that will undermine democratic controls, reduce the quality of new development and waste a golden opportunity to build safer and more environmentally sustainable places with thriving communities.

The government is taking control of planning away from democratically elected planning authorities such as Wiltshire Council and placing it in the hands of developers, contrary to the views of expert professionals.

The Town and Country Planning Association has said: "We are deeply concerned that the proposals will undermine local democracy, marginalise local councils and fail to achieve the kind of high quality places that the government is committed to delivering".

The Royal Institute of British Architects said: "While there's no doubt the planning system needs reform, these shameful proposals do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes. … there's every chance they could also lead to the creation of the next generation of slum housing."

Under the previous 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, Britain has been hugely successful in protecting rural land from development. If these reforms are accepted, rural areas will be open to arbitrary development.

The proposed changes risk a 'race to the bottom' in housing quality. Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are essential to protect vulnerable wildlife, nature, heritage and health. EIAs should be strengthened, not weakened, if we are serious about tackling the climate crisis and delivering the green recovery we desperately need. Although the reform promises "protection" for the countryside, there is no conceivable way a new commission can review and register every acre for protection. This will unleash a sprawl such as that seen across many countries in the rest of Europe, with owners able to build over land at their will.

Furthermore, in 2019 Wiltshire Council resolved to acknowledge a climate emergency and seek to make the county carbon neutral by 2030. The proposed that the plan includes a community-led approach which engages, empowers, enables and communicates with Wiltshire communities and businesses. The reforms disregard every aspect of these pledges, with communities at risk of having no voice after the reforms. Years hard work by citizens and communities to create their own Neighbourhood Plans will be thrown away in favour of already privileged developers.

The commitment to make new homes carbon neutral by as late as 2050 is woefully under-ambitious. By this time the UK's entire economy is already supposed to be carbon neutral, according to the Climate Change Act.

The role of councils and residents in deciding what should be built in our communities must be protected. Let's reform planning by making sure that communities have more of a say over what happens in their area, while treating the climate, nature and housing emergencies as the emergencies that they are. Anything less would a complete failure in levelling up or building back a better Britain and Wiltshire.

We look forward to hearing from you to confirm that you are working to urge the Government to scrap the plans.

Yours Sincerely,

Cllr Sarah Gibson, Wiltshire Lib Dem Spokesperson for Planning and Housing

Cllr Ian Thorn, Wiltshire Lib Dem Group Leader