Great Britain

Proposals to speed up the planning process could be 'disastrous' - according to Councillor

GOVERNMENT planning reforms aimed at speeding up permissions for new developments will be “disastrous”, according to Labour in Kirklees.

The Lib Dems say democracy will be “stripped out of the process” and that neither the public nor local councillors who represent them will have a say when already weakened safeguards are killed off.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have urged local MPs to oppose the bill.

But local Tories say the government’s proposals represent an opportunity for disadvantaged younger people to get a foot on the housing ladder.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick revealed last year that the government would speed up building by giving “permission in principle”  to developments on land designated “for growth, renewal or protection”.

A planning bill to be included in the Queen’s Speech today aims to build on existing levels of home ownership.

The proposed reforms would make it easier for houses to be constructed in growth areas.

In Kirklees the council has been tasked with building 31,000 homes by 2031. Many are earmarked for green belt sites.

The authority’s Local Plan, which was approved two years ago, has proved to be massively contentious with residents across the borough raising petitions and campaigning against large-scale developments.

They include schemes at Bradley and Lepton in Huddersfield, in Denby Dale and at Dewsbury Riverside.

The council was Labour-run when the Local Plan was approved. It is presently under no overall control.

However it is the council that has been criticised for voting through controversial and unpopular schemes even though the Local Plan is an order from the government.

Clr Will Simpson (Lab, Denby Dale) said the government was hoping local authorities would “take the blame” for the its policies.

Government planning changes 'solving problem that doesn't exist'

He accused the Conservatives of creating a planning system that was “rigged” in favour of developers and landowners whilst simultaneously weakening the voices of communities and the power of councils to stop what he described as “bad development”.

 He said: “They have already removed brownfield housing from local plans in Kirklees and enforced building on greenfield and Green Belt sites.

“All while hoping councils will take the blame for their own policies.

“But this hasn’t addressed the affordability crisis or delivered social housing for the people that need it.”

He said the “disastrous” reforms would be “a gift” for developers’ shareholders and make “a dire situation even worse”.

He added: “It will make the planning system even less democratic and put yet more pressure on the Green Belt – all whilst rolling back environmental protections.”

Lib Dem group leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said Tuesday’s bill “marks the death of what few, already weakened, safeguards we have left” to protect the public from “poor” planning applications.

“This bill gags the public, denying them any opportunity to be heard in any part of the process and we should be fighting tooth and nail to resist it. It lights the blue touch paper to countless peoples’ misery and anger.”

He spoke of a housing development at Merchant Fields in Cleckheaton, were the planning committee ruled against development on a site where they had not managed to find old mine workings known to be in the area.

“That kind of opportunity to give vital checks and balances will disappear for good [with this bill]. The big business builders already mark their own homework; they can’t be allowed to set it as well.”

 For the Conservatives Clr John Taylor (Kirkburton) said: “The government proposals to help younger people get on the ladder of home ownership are absolutely to be welcomed.

“It has been clear for a long time that younger people have been disadvantaged, and forced into private rented accommodation with rents continuing to escalate.

“The solution to this is to build more houses, and I welcome proposals that will tackle the housing crisis.”

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