PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE – how the changes to planning laws may affect you!

The government is currently consulting on proposals to rip up our planning system and replace it with a system based on data, maps and algorithms!

WBRA and CCARA have, over many years, helped members fight against inappropriate developments that would affect their quality of life and the enjoyment of their property. In recent years Beckenham has been blighted by overdevelopment on sites, such as conversion of a house into multiple occupation, backland development in gardens, offices being turned into small pokey flats, and demolition of existing properties to be turned into high density flats without good amenities. We have often been successful. Although we have not always been able to stop them, we have usually been able to mitigate the effects and encourage better design and standards. That would stop under the new proposals. Local people, the Council, our Councillors and MP would be almost powerless to stop bad planning development once the new planning system is in place, with only an option to tweak the design guidelines every 5 years.

What is being proposed?

This video by the Countryside Charity helpfully explains the proposed Planning System. The changes impact people in urban and rural areas in the same manner.

The key changes

  • The council would have only 6 months to consult local people about a master plan for their area. Then that would be it – no further opportunities to object to any individual planning application if it complies with this master plan for at least 5 years.

  • The master plan would have to allocate every piece of land to one of three zones.

    • Growth Zones (suitable for substantial development) automatic outline planning permission
    • Renewal Zones (for densification) a general presumption in favour of pre-specified building types.
    • Protected Zones (Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Conservation Areas) would planning applications be required as now.
  • There is no indication of how big zones are expected to be – Town? Ward? Local? But they would be decided by using “data” and “maps” and then “algorithms” would be used to decide what type of development should be built there…. What could go wrong?
  • Each local authority would have nationally set targets for their contribution to a national target of 300,000 new homes to be built. These indicative targets have already been published and once again have been set by algorithms.
  • The master plan would contain the zones and also a design guide for what buildings should look like. Design is highly subjective and must be in keeping with the surrounding buildings. There is a real risk that this proposal will mean developers favoured style of flat faced, square buildings will be built incongruously in any zone, changing the character of towns like ours.
  • The people who live here – you and me – would have a say only when this master plan is drawn up and councils would have only six months to consult us. “Engagement” would be via technology. No IT or smart phone? No comment possible.
  • And local community groups such as WBRA and CCARA will unlikely have the time resources to engage in any meaningful “consultation” exercise on the master plan, design guide identification of “zones”. Perhaps the government are banking on that!!

Some MPs are revolting against the proposals

There was debate in Parliament on 8 October where not a single MP was in favour and the vast majority who spoke against were members of the Government party, opposing their own Ministers. Teresa May pointed out that there are already planning permissions granted to build 1 million houses that developers simply do not build, so our existing planning system is not the problem.

This is a terrible proposal, what can you do?

  • Sign the petition organised by the Countryside Charity here.
  • Write to your MP. You don’t need to know all the fine details, just that:
    • You oppose the planning changes as you think they will detrimental to Beckenham and Bromley Borough as they remove proper planning scrutiny from the Council.
    • Planning decision-making powers must remain with communities and local councils and not be handed over to central powers in Westminster nor made by algorithm.
    • The government should improve the current planning system whilst ensuring that communities have a say in shaping the future of where they live.
    • Contact Ellie Reeves here and Bob Stewart here.
  • Comment on the consultation here, but frankly the document is long, detailed and complicated – the most powerful thing you can do is write to your MP and sign the petition.

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