As the country recovers from the pandemic, it might be no surprise that the Government has decided to make a U-turn on its flagship Planning Reform Bill. Rising opposition from Conservative MPs, confusion from the public, outrage from climate change campaigners, the Government losing a once considered safe seat to the Liberal Democrats. This time it has nothing to do with Brexit. Instead, it’s the Government’s landmark reforms to the planning system that were set to transform land into zones for either protection or development.
The news that the planning reforms will be considerably watered-down will come as no surprise to many within the Conservative Party, or even those in local government. Major reforms were always going to be difficult to get over the line and particularly within the current context of the Covid pandemic, the public have become more conscious of their surroundings. Add into the mix the recently announced National Insurance increase to fund adult social care and another winter of covid misery on the horizon, the Government have made the decision to reduce the opportunities for them to come under fire.
It is believed that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has been meeting with MPs over the past week and will continue to do so for most of this week as well. This is a clear sign that the Government has been keen to understand the general feeling amongst the Conservative backbenchers under the guise of reassuring them on the reforms. Whilst the Chesham and Amersham by-election has been touted as a rejection of these planning reforms, it’s important to note that there were murmurs from backbench MPs who had visited the seat to campaign that Central Office had taken the decision to not canvass any solid Conservative voters. In a by-election, no matter how safe the seat may be, every vote counts and the Conservatives paid the price for this complacency.
Further to this, although the reforms may have been well intended to help reduce the current pressures on housing across the country, watering down democratic involvement in the planning process has been fatal.
The overall reforms themselves would have caused untold misery for Councils, many who have been arguing over the lifetime of these reforms that they have thousands of homes consented to be built but not even a spade has gone into the ground. Many local authorities do not have the resources needed to operate under the newly proposed planning system and with little clarity or reassurance from MHCLG, this has been a classic case of the Government not listening to the experts.
Cascade’s position on the proposed zonal system remains – it is the best approach to protect biodiversity and habitats for the future, and ensure that we tackle the housing crisis. It is disappointing that the most beneficial aspect of the reforms has been dropped.
Time will tell if these planning reforms would have made a difference in tackling the housing crisis and hindsight is a wonderful thing. Whilst the Government and backbenches may be concerned about voters who are against new housing, the green agenda has shown us that the younger generation is not to be ignored.
Cascade will continue to closely monitor the emerging situation on the Planning Bill. Get in touch if we can assist with any projects or for further insight.