Monday, 19 March 2012

Hands Off Our Land: Frustrated Osborne vows to make building on countryside easier

This article comes courtesy of the Telegraph you can view comments from the AONB Planning Advisor below:

George Osborne yesterday pledged to push through planning rules that will make it easier to build in the countryside, despite reassurances by ministerial colleagues that the reforms will not be a "developer's charter".

The Chancellor confirmed that planning legislation to be announced as part of this week's Budget will clear the way for the construction of more homes and infrastructure. He is also expected to scrap regulations designed to protect wildlife in a drive to boost economic growth.
Yesterday, Mr Osborne said he was "deeply frustrated" with the slow planning process and ready to "shake-up" the rules. His comments threaten to undemine his coalition government's claim to be the "greenest Government ever".

Groups including the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and National Trust have dubbed the plans a "developers charter" because they will make it so easy to build on farmland and other green sites.

The Daily Telegraph has also called for a rethink of the plans through its Hands Off Our Land campaign.  Eric Pickles, the Community Secretary, has been keen to emphasise the Government's willingness to listen to these concerns after a series of meetings with the groups.
Yesterday, Stephen Hammond, Mr Pickles' Parliamentary Secretary, insisted that changes will be made to ensure the countryside is protected. Alterations to the original reforms are expected to include a commitment to build on developed land before greenfield sites. The definition of 'sustainable development' - which the Government proposes should be key to any justification for building - will also be tweaked to better take into account the value of the countryside.

But campaigners remain deeply cynical that the definition of sustainable development will be strong enough to stop unsightly buildings in the countryside. Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust, said the plans were “crazy” and were already leading to ugly advertising boards along roads. He pointed out that all councils without a “local plan” in place will revert to a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, even though it is not yet clear that this definition will include strong enough measures to protect the wider environment. “The planning system needs to be simplified. But that is quite different to saying in all areas without an existing plan – which is most of the country – there is a presumption of sustainable development. That is a building permits system not a planning system.”
A survey carried out by Greenpeace and the RSPB found that most of the public disagree with Mr Osborne that regulations and planning is a threat to growth. The poll of more than 1,700 adults across the UK revealed that only two per cent of those quizzed believed the Coalition was the greenest ever. Only four per cent of British public feel that laws safeguarding Britain’s wildlife and countryside are too strong. In contrast, a majority of respondents 40 per cent felt they were too weak.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Osborne insisted that the current planning rules are holding Britain back. "It is deeply frustrating that the planning rules hold back economic development in Britain. I was talking to a major global company who said it takes a third of a time to build a warehouse in Germany than it does in Britain,” he said. Mr Osborne insisted that any changes will not allow development on protected land like the National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). "I’m determined that we shake-up our planning rules so we yes protect the green belt and our most precious green spaces but we also allow businesses to expand and people to have decent homes and children to be able to afford a home when they grow up. These are priorities for a planning system and in the budget we will be publishing new planning rules which I think will make it allot easier for things to get built in this country while protecting our most precious environments."

But speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Mr Hammond was more concessionary and insisted sustainable development will have a meaningful definition. Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB, said Mr Osborne needs to start listening to the public, like others in his party. "There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest protection of the environment is a barrier to economic growth but plenty to suggest smart regulation is actually a stimulus to growth," he said. "Because of this lack of understanding, the Budget this week has the potential to be a Black Wednesday for the environment if the Government unveils an attack on environmental legislation and new planning guidance which fails our wildlife sites."

Roberta Blackman Woods MP, Labour's shadow planning minister, said DCLG had wanted to have more time before changes to planning are made. "We would be extremely concerned if Treasury pressure means that sufficient care and attention has not been given to resolving the problems with the draft NPPF," she said. "The draft lacked sufficient clarity to enable sound decision making and as written could cause huge risk to the environment and chaos in the planning system. I hope the final version strengthens the criteria for sustainable development and gives better protection to green spaces."

Richard Burden - Planning Advisor to the AONB comments:

"It does seem rather strange that a politician with responsibilities for national finances – and presumably some reasonably high level of knowledge in that area – should presume to know about the equally, or arguably more, complex area of planning. Listening to only developers is invariably going to provide him with a biased understanding.
Those of us who see more of the day to day details of planning can confirm it is not the principles of planning that slow things down but the minutiae of detail. I heard on Friday of a builder who requires a client to have written confirmation that a proposed conservatory is ‘Permitted Development’ [something the whole concept of Permitted Development was supposed to avoid], and that the local planning authority is charging £40 to provide that, and not guaranteed by return of post! Furthermore the extension of the EIA provisions last year now means that many more projects have to be assessed by a shrinking planning authority staff whether or not these potentially require more time consuming research and evaluation. All these, and many similar, procedures [rather than the principles of planning] slow down the planning processes.

The current Planning Policy Statements provide everyone – developers, professionals, and local decision makers – with the clarity that the draft NPPF proposed to do away with! If Mr Osborne’s concern is that ‘Time is Money’ then he should ask his relevant colleagues to investigate ways planning detail can be reduced, hence relieving both applicants and planning authority staff of the time spent on such matters".