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Norfolk councillors express fears over planning reform proposals

Historic reforms of planning rules have been branded “contentious”, “pitiful” and “a bad day for local democracy”, over fears communities will be excluded from decision-making.

The government has unveiled draft new laws outlining the biggest shake-up of planning rules in England for decades.

Under proposals from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), all land would be categorised as either growth, renewal or protected.

Architect wearing site safety gear and holding plans surveying a new building plot. istock (38601119)
Architect wearing site safety gear and holding plans surveying a new building plot. istock (38601119)

And sites earmarked for development in growth areas by local plan documents would have outline approval for development.

The changes, in practice, would remove an entire layer of scrutiny from the development process – with applications automatically green-lit in pre-approved areas – and render public objections and committee decisions obsolete.

Critics have slammed the plans for a lack of detail, an increase in “central control” and for reducing the public’s say over development.

The government has said people will have a “meaningful say” at the broader policy stage instead.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We are cutting red tape, but not standards. We are moving away from notices on lampposts to an interactive and accessible map-based online system. The planning process will be brought into the 21st century.”

The proposals seek to:

• Streamline permissions for “beautiful buildings”,

• Create an online planning system based on area local plans,

• Ensure all newly-built streets are “tree-lined”,

• And make all councils finish growth visions within 30 months.

But Roger Atterwill, independent councillor in Breckland, said: “They are expecting local communities to have their say at the policy stage. Once this has been approved, people will have no right of redress.

“Local councillors, like myself, won’t have any say over how the development looks and whether the infrastructure is appropriate.

“To try and determine all of that at a policy stage will be very difficult for people to understand.”

Mr Atterwill, who sits on Breckland’s planning committee, added: “People will get up in arms and say ‘we don’t want that’ but there’s nothing that can be done.

“It’s a bad day for local democracy. Councillors and people will have much less say on what is built in their communities.”

West Norfolk Council planning committee chairman Chris Crofts said: “The real questions will be when we get to the actual detail. It’s going to be very contentious.”

And a charity advocating for countryside protections says it has “major concerns” about the raft of potential new changes.

Paul Miner, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: the plans would make it more difficult for the public to have their say on developments.

He said all new homes should be zero carbon within 10 years, rather than by the government's target date of 2050 and there was a major concern about affordable housing provision, as the proposals would not require sites of 50 homes or less to provide affordable homes.

He said: "It’s a major concern – most of the sites that come forward from housing in rural areas are small sites. You could be losing a huge number of opportunities to provide homes for local people.”

But Mr Jenrick told the BBC people would have the chance for a “meaningful say” at the start of the policy process, when broad visions for an area are drawn up, though they would not be able to stop specific developments at the application stage.

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