The government’s proposals put forward by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick to identify areas for ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’ and ‘Protection’ with corresponding levels of planning control raise some interesting dilemmas.
The planning system is based on local communities developing a Local Plan for themselves which sets out the priorities for growth and development within an area supplemented by neighbourhood plans. Some strategic planning does take place in areas such a Greater Manchester but strategic planning was undermined by the ‘Localism Agenda’ developed by a previous Conservative Government to hand planning control ‘back to the people’.
Local Authorities will be ordered to identify areas for growth, renewal and protection. In areas of growth, development will be able to proceed without planning permission. In areas of renewal there will be permission in principle but with oversight from the local community to address issues such as flood risk, design, impact on transport and highways. In areas of protection the current planning rules will continue.
This approach could undermine the localism agenda and the whole local plan process. In areas of growth, with no planning rules, identified local plan sites for development could remain undeveloped while poorly designed, poor quality development which provides no funding to support local services and facilities could be built next door. Nothing the government has said will ensure that the Building Better agenda would be followed through in a growth area. There is also no indication that basic standards would be met in terms of minimum dwelling sizes or space about dwelling standards. Incompatible uses could be placed next to each other and a growth area like the Enterprise Zones of the 1970s could be used to undermine the social and economic fabric of a community.
This approach could also reinforce social division. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Green Belt, Heritage coasts and other designated areas have strict controls on new development while Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites place strict controls over design and protection of the built environment. These areas are also expensive places in which to buy property and they have the effect of creating social division. Areas of protection are likely to equate to these areas but also to rural and coastal areas where there are high house values so that those whose voices ‘count’ are offered a system that protects their local area. For example the localism agenda might continue in the Home Counties, using full planning controls with perhaps growth areas in east London, the Medway Towns and ethnically diverse areas such as Luton and Slough. In the north in settlements such as Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Rochdale, and Blackpool large parts of their towns and cities could be identified as growth areas and in doing so the opportunity for people living and working in those locations to retain control over their environment through planning control would be removed. This could have the effect of removing control from the very people least able to exert control over their own lives. This creates inequity, one rule for one and one rule for another. It undermines society and it is a very dangerous direction of travel.
Without planning control there is no requirement to fund local services and facilities. This could make the provision of local services in poor areas where the need is greatest far more difficult with schools overwhelmed, health services stretched and the quality of the local environment made even poorer.
Before this system is introduced I urge the government to think again. Covid-19 has already exposed social, educational and health divisions in our society. The proposed changes in the planning system will only cement these divisions.
We need well planned cities and towns and equal levels of service. We need a green decarbonising agenda and we need to improve the quality of life and the wellness of every citizen of the UK, not just the wealthy few.
Jonathan Jenkin, Managing Director, Planning & Design Practice Ltd
Main Image: Thanks to Cactus Images